Syrian rights group says 24 killed nationwide - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Syrian rights group says 24 killed nationwide

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A Syrian Kurdish man shouts anti-government slogans during a protest near the Syrian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, April 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Ahmad Omar) A Syrian Kurdish man shouts anti-government slogans during a protest near the Syrian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, April 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Ahmad Omar)

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian human rights group says at least 24 people have been killed across Syrian on Friday — including 15 villagers who tried to approach the besieged southern city of Daraa.

Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said the death toll could rise. He is the head of a human rights group based in Syria, which compiles death tolls from the crackdown.

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country Friday, calling for President Bashar Assad's downfall and pledging support for the citizens of Daraa.

Daraa is at the heart of the country's six-week uprising. The regime has unleashed the army, backed by tanks and snipers, to crush the protest movement.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) — Security forces opened fire Friday on demonstrators trying to break an army blockade on the southern city of Daraa, killing 10 people, as thousands across Syria defied a protest ban and denounced President Bashar Assad's harsh crackdown of a six-week uprising, witnesses and human rights officials said.

The protesters in cities across Syria — including the capital of Damascus — called for Assad's ouster, with some of them chanting "We are not afraid!"

Mazen Darwish, a prominent activist who runs a group called the Syrian Media Center, said 10 people were killed as they marched toward Daraa, the heart of the protests.

A witness in Daraa said residents there were staying home because the city has been under siege by the military since Monday, when thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and snipers stormed in. People were too afraid even to venture out to mosques for prayers, the witness said.

"We are in our houses but our hearts are in the mosques," the witness said, speaking by satellite telephone and asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals.

Large demonstrations broke out in Damascus, the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the northeastern town of Qamishli.

In Damascus' central Midan neighborhood, witnesses said about 2,000 people marched and chanted, "God, Syria and freedom only!" in a heavy rain, but security forces opened fire with bullets and tear gas, scattering them.

The government had warned against holding any demonstrations Friday and placed large banners around the capital that read: "We urge the brother citizens to avoid going out of your homes on Friday for your own safety." Syrian TV said the Interior Ministry has not approved any "march, demonstration or sit-in" and that such rallies seek only to harm Syria's security and stability.

Assad's attempts to crush the revolt — the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty — have drawn international criticism and threats of sanctions from European countries and the United States.

The government says the protests are a foreign conspiracy carried out by extremist forces and armed thugs, not true reform-seekers.

Syrian TV said military and police forces came under attack Friday by "armed terrorists" in Daraa and the central city of Homs, killing four soldiers and three police officers. Two soldiers were captured, the report said. The station also said one of its cameramen was injured in Latakia in an attack by an armed gang.

A devastating picture was emerging of Daraa — which has been without electricity, water and telephones since Monday — as residents flee to neighboring countries. Daraa is where the uprising kicked off, sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

At the Jordanian side of the Syrian border, several Daraa residents who had just crossed over said there is blood on the streets of the city.

"Gunfire is heard across the city all the time," one man said, asking that his name not be used for fear of retribution. "People are getting killed in the streets by snipers if they leave their homes."

An AP reporter at the border heard gunfire and saw smoke rising from different areas just across the frontier. Residents said the gunfire has been constant for three weeks.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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