Middle East

Syria unrest: 'New violence' near Homs amid talks call

Undated photo of Syrian troops patrolling streets in an undisclosed location (13 May 2011)
Image caption The Syrian government says it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs"

New violence has flared in Syria, with three people reported killed in a town near the city of Homs.

Several other people were injured when security forces shelled the town of Tal Kalakh, close to Syria's border with Lebanon, activists and witnesses said.

The reports of violence come a day after Syria said it was withdrawing troops and tanks from some cities and offering a "national dialogue".

Activists say at least 700 people have been killed in two months of protests.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described that figure as credible.

Security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have used force against anti-government protesters in a string of cities across the country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it fears hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been detained in Syria in recent weeks.

However, reports from Syria are hard to verify independently as foreign journalists are not allowed into the country.

The Syrian government says it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs", which it blames for the deaths of about 98 soldiers and members of the security services nationwide, and 22 police officers.

Dialogue doubts

Despite the reports of a pullout of troops in the coastal city of Baniyas and the main flashpoint centre of Deraa, reports from Tal Kalakh on Saturday suggested they remained very much in control there.

One witness told the AFP news agency that security forces had surrounded the town since early on Saturday, before opening fire with automatic weapons.

Unconfirmed reports said many people fled across the border into Lebanon, some with gunshot wounds.

The new reports of violence come a day after six people were said to have been killed during Friday protests, despite orders from the government for security forces not to attack demonstrators.

Officials also said a "comprehensive national dialogue" on the unrest would begin in all provinces next week.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Lebanon, says that it is unsurprising that there is scepticism in opposition circles about the regime's announcement.

Giving details of the proposed dialogue, Information Minister Adnan Hassan Mahmoud said President Assad would meet with "popular delegations" from around the country and listen to "their opinions, demands, and visions about what has currently been taking place in Syria."

It is not clear who will form the delegations, but the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the moves are a clear shift in tactics by President Assad.

Announcing the troop withdrawal, Mr Mahmoud said on Friday that army units had completed their pullout from the southern city of Deraa and started a gradual withdrawal from the coastal city of Baniyas.

Residents of Deraa said there were still tanks outside mosques after the conclusion of Friday prayers and that troops had fired into the air to disperse a large demonstration. Information from residents of Baniyas suggested that hundreds of troops were still there during Friday.

Before Friday prayers - which have become a rallying point for protesters in Syria as they have in several other Arab countries in recent months - an opposition leader said President Bashar al-Assad had promised troops would not fire on protesters.

As Friday prayers came to an end, reports started to come in of protest marches leaving mosques in many parts of the country.

Despite the apparent pledge of restraint, three people were killed in Homs, Syria's third largest city, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAmateur footage has emerged of various demonstrations on Friday

Homs has been the scene of a major military operation since Monday. Areas of the city have been shelled by tanks, and troops have been conducting house-to-house searches and arrests to find or intimidate protesters.

Two people were killed in al-Qaboun, a northern suburb of the capital, Damascus, activists said, when plainclothes gunmen opened fire on protesters.

Activists also said one person was killed in a village outside Deraa, the epicentre of the anti-government unrest.

Protests elsewhere in the country were broken up by security forces using tear gas, water cannons and batons.

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Qamishli

A mobile phone snapshot, reportedly taken in Qamishli on 29 April, shows protesters carrying banners written in Arabic and Kurdish demanding democracy.

Damascus

Anti-government protesters in Syria say seven people have been killed by the security forces in the town of Talkalakh, close to the border with Lebanon.

Razan, who is a resident of Damascus, tells the BBC about violence and protests around Syria.

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Talbisah

Amateur video has captured the moment what was a peaceful protest in the Syrian city of Talbisah was broken up forcefully by soldiers.

This unverified video seems to show a peaceful protest in Talbisah. Moments into the footage, tanks fire on unarmed civilians. Wyre Davis reports.

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Deraa

Residents of Deraa walk past a burnt-out building. It follows shelling by troops in what human rights groups say was an intensified crackdown on protests in recent weeks.

Homs

Syrian army vehicles were photographed near Homs and broadcast on the Syrian opposition internet channel Sham SNN on 11 May.

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