Syrian forces fire heavy machineguns in Homs

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian forces fired heavy machineguns at a residential district in the central city of Homs yesterday after protests against President Bashar al-Assad, who faces growing world isolation for his repression of five months of popular unrest.

Residents said military helicopters flew over the city in the early hours, where electricity and landline telephones were cut on Friday following demonstrations in which crowds had waved shoes in a sign of contempt for Assad.

“Bye-bye Bashar. See you in The Hague,” protesters chanted, referring to the Dutch-based international war crimes tribunal.

“We want revenge against Maher and Bashar,” others shouted, referring to the Syrian leader and his powerful brother — a military commander accused by diplomats and residents of attacking cities and cracking down on pro-democracy protests.

Activists said Syrian forces had also killed two civilians in house raids in the town of Rastan north of Homs yesterday.

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, an activists’ organisation, said one man was killed in al Hirak in Deraa province when security forces fired at a funeral.

A day earlier, Assad’s forces killed 34 people, including four children, in Homs and Deraa, where the popular revolt began in March, as well as in suburbs of Damascus and the ancient desert town of Palmyra, activists said.

Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.

International pressure on Assad ratcheted up this week after the United States and European allies called on the 45-year-old leader to quit, and imposed new sanctions.

Britain said it had yet to decide whether to back proposed European Union sanctions on Syrian oil, and is wary of measures that could hurt the Syrian people more than they hurt Assad.

The United States imposed an oil embargo on Syria on Thursday in protest against Assad’s crackdown on civil unrest that the United Nations says has killed around 2,000 people.

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