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Syrian forces, supporters kill 4 civilians

BEIRUT -- Syrian security forces and pro-government gunmen killed four protesters yesterday in the port city of Banias after the army sealed off the city as protesters gathered, undaunted by the regime's use of deadly force to quell more than three weeks of unrest, witnesses said.

State TV reported that nine soldiers were killed in an ambush near the city.

Details were sketchy because telephone lines, Internet access and electricity apparently were cut to most parts of the city. Army tanks and soldiers circled the city, preventing people from entering.

One witness, reached by telephone, said hundreds of protesters had gathered near the al-Rahman mosque when security forces and armed men in civilian clothes opened fire. The names of the dead were read out on mosque loudspeakers.

He said dozens of people were wounded, but most of them asked to be treated at a small clinic instead of at the main hospital, which was under the control of the feared security forces.

Like most eyewitnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he requested anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

"There are demonstrations throughout the city and people are chanting against the regime," said Haitham al-Maleh, 80, a lawyer and longtime rights activist who spent years as a political prisoner in Syria. -- AP

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