Anti-Assad Protests Grip Damascus, Aleppo

Mass demonstrations break out in Syria's two largest cities after Friday prayers; Syrian forces respond with tear gas and live ammunition, with multiple casualties reported.

Syrian forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's two largest cities, on Friday, amid tight security measures imposed by government forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two protesters were killed in Aleppo, a major economic hub which has remained largely supportive of Assad throughout the uprising but where anti-regime sentiment has been on the rise in recent weeks.

Aleppo-based activist Mohammad Saeed said more than 10,000 people were protesting in the city. "The regime is desperately trying to put down the protests in Aleppo, but all this violence will backfire," he said.

Amateur videos posted online by activists showed several wounded people, including a teenage girl, being carried away by other protesters."Down, down, down. Down with Bashar Assad," the protesters shouted as they marched in the Salaheddine district.

In the capital Damascus, troops fired tear gas to disperse a large demonstration that started as protesters emerged from the Daqaq Mosque in the restive Midan district in Damascus. The Observatory said a boy was also killed by snipers fire in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen ahead of a protest there.

Earlier, government forces shelled the Qusour and Jobar neighborhoods in the city of Homs, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

The opposition said that at least 14 people had been killed by government forces in the central province of Hama. Among those killed were three teenagers who were shot by security forces while they were in their farm in the village of Chizar, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the southern town of Inkhel, several people were wounded when troops opened fire at protesters, while in the central Homs region, seven people were reported wounded as a result of security forces' gunfire.

Activists had called for demonstrations after Friday's noon prayers under the slogan: "Our next meeting takes place is Damascus."The activists are seeking to intensify their activities in the Syrian capital, despite the tight grip imposed by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Videos posted online showed hundreds of protesters chanting in support of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is made up largely of army deserters. Activists claimed thousands of people attended, but their estimates could not be independently verified.

"God bless the Free Syrian Army, our protectors," protesters chanted in footage taken in the Damascus area of Douma. Protesters also called on Muslim clergymen to stop supporting the government.

Meanwhile, international envoy Kofi Annan is due to visit Syria on Monday for talks with government officials on the shaky implementation of his peace plan, diplomatic sources said. Annan is also expected to meet with opposition politicians inside Syria, the sources said Friday.

A key component of Annan's plan to end 14 months of bloodshed in Syria, a ceasefire, has been repeatedly violated since it went into effect on April 12. The presence of some 250 UN monitors in Syria to supervise the truce has not stopped the violence, which has intensified in some dissident areas, say observers.

"Annan's plan is in jeopardy," said a Western diplomat based in Beirut, noting that the prospects of a diplomatic solution to Syria's conflict appeared "weak."

More than 12,600 people, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in Syria since an anti-government uprising began in 2011, according to the Observatory. The UN has estimated the number of deaths at 9,000.