BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syrian security forces and snipers opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least six people as mass arrests and heavy security kept crowds below previous levels seen during the two-month uprising, activists said.
A leading human rights activist said three people were killed in Homs, two in Damascus and one in a village outside Daraa. "At first they opened fire in the air, but the people continued on their way, and then they shot directly into the crowd," an eyewitness said. He said security forces dressed in black along with shadowy, pro-regime gunmen known as "shabiha" were doing the shooting.
Human rights groups say more than 775 people have been killed since the start of the protest movement in Syria in mid-March. The violence has become a deadly cycle each week, with protesters taking to the streets every Friday only to be met with bullets, tear gas and batons, with funerals a day later.
On Friday, despite the crackdown, thousands of people shouting "The people want to topple the regime!" returned to the streets to demand an end to President Bashar Assad's regime. The rallies also spread to new areas of the capital, suggesting opposition to the 40-year Assad dynasty remains unbowed despite one of the most violent crackdowns of the Arab Spring.
Assad has come under scathing criticism for the crackdown, with the United States and Europe imposing sanctions. Britain summoned Syria's ambassador Friday to warn that new sanctions will target the regime's hierarchy if Assad does not halt the violent crackdown.
There is a media blackout in Syria, making it impossible to confirm witness accounts independently. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their personal safety.