BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces opened fire on a late-night protest in a southern village, killing four people as the nation braced for another wave of protests after Friday prayers, an opposition group said.
Also Friday, Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted in Lebanon's daily As-Safir newspaper as promising that there will be "no going back" on reforms. He did not elaborate.
The 10-week protest movement in Syria has evolved from a disparate movement demanding reforms to a resilient uprising that is now seeking Assad's ouster. Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed since the revolt began in mid-March — a death toll that has enraged and motivated protesters.
Assad appears determined to crush the revolt, which is posing the most serious challenge to his family's 40-year rule. The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.
Many activists in Syria have been opting for nighttime protests and candlelight vigils in recent days, aiming for a time when the security presence has thinned out.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which help organize the protests against Assad's regime, said the deaths early Friday were in the southern village of Dael.
Other demonstrations were reported overnight and early Friday in the coastal areas of Latakia, Banias and Jableh, the central cities of Hama and Homs, and the northern province of Idlib.
On Thursday, the Syrian opposition called on the army to join the uprising against Assad's regime, saying regime elements are targeting protesters and troops. The opposition said on Facebook that protests planned for Friday will honor the "Guardians of the Nation," a reference to the army.
The call appears to be an effort to break a stalemate after nearly 10 weeks of protests. During the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the armed forces broke with the regimes and sided with the protesters.
The regime blames the unrest on "armed groups," not reform-seekers.
The protests in Syria are raising concerns that the unrest could spill over into neighboring Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Committee for Human Rights said Friday that a leading opposition figure, 86-year-old Shibli al-Aisamy, a defector from Assad's ruling Baath Party, went missing along with his wife in Lebanon. The rights group urged Lebanese authorities not to hand him over to Syria.
A Lebanese security official confirmed that al-Aisamy disappeared Tuesday after leaving a home he keeps in the mountain town of Aley. The official said a search is continuing to find al-Aisamy, who also holds Yemeni citizenship.
Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades until after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a crime that many have blamed on Syria.
Syria has always denied any responsibility for the killing.
Syrian troops were forced to pull out that year under local and international pressure.
Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue