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Troops open fire on Syria rallies

An image from amateur video released by Shams News Network and accessed via The Associated Press Television News.

An image from amateur video released by Shams News Network and accessed via The Associated Press Television News.

Syrian soldiers opened fire today on tens of thousands of protesters who flooded the streets shouting "We will not kneel!" in a strong show of defiance against President Bashar Assad.

At least one protester was killed in the central city of Homs, activists said. Military raids earlier in the day killed at least two people.

Friday has become the main day for demonstrations in Syria, despite the near-certainty of a government crackdown with bullets and tear gas.

The latest rallies were largest in Homs and the outskirts of Hama in central Syria, Deir el-Zour in the east, Idlib province near the Turkish border and Latakia in the north.

The protests in Deir el-Zour and outside Hama were significant because government forces took control of both areas this week during deadly military assaults.

The fact that protesters still turned out was a strong sign of defiance and the latest signal that Assad's forces cannot terrify protesters into staying at home.

Syrian troops opened fire on thousands in Deir el-Zour, according to two main activist groups.

Protesters struggled to turn out in great numbers inside Hama, however, due to the widespread deployment of soldiers and snipers stationed on rooftops, witnesses said. Syrian troops surrounded mosques and set up checkpoints to head off any protests.

"There are security checkpoints every 200 meters, they have lists and they're searching people... the mosques are surrounded by soldiers," a Hama-based activist said.

He said tens of soldiers were stationed in the Assi square in Hama, which had been the main converging point for hundreds of thousands of protesters in recent weeks.

Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground. The government has justified its crackdown by saying it was dealing with terrorist gangs and criminals who were fomenting unrest.

The military offensive reflects Assad's determination to crush the uprising against his rule despite mounting international condemnation, including US and European sanctions.

Today Syrian activists said troops and tanks stormed the town of Khan Sheikhon in the northern province of Idlib amid heavy gunfire that killed one woman.

The raid is part of a military operation in the restive area near the Turkish border in the past few days.

Intense protests in the region triggered a harsh government response in June and forced thousands of Syrians to flee across the border to Turkey.

Many of those who fled are still living in several refugee camps across the border.

Syrian activists said security forces detained Abdul-Karim Rihawi, the Damascus-based head of the Syrian Human Rights League. A veteran rights activist, Rihawi had been tracking government violations and documenting deaths in Syria.

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