BEIRUT // Protesters defied a government crackdown on demonstrations yesterday as they marched in towns and cities across Syria to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre.
At least three people was killed by security forces in Hama. They were among a total of at least 28 people who were killed across the country, including three children, according to the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of opposition activists. These numbers could not be independently verified.
Forces loyal to the late Hafez Al Assad - the father of current Syrian president Bashar Al Assad - were behind the assault in 1982 that killed an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 people. Rallies were held by opposition supporters across the country yesterday, some in memory of those who died three decades ago, marching under the banner "Hama, forgive us", activists said.
Sana, the Syrian state news agency, reported that two children were killed after an "armed terrorist group" planted an explosive device in the town of Kafar Takharim.
The agency also reported the deaths of eight "terrorists", killed in clashes with security forces in an area outside Homs. One government army officer was killed in the violence. In December the government said at least 2,000 members of the security forces had been killed since last March.
A United Nations estimate from last month put the number of people killed since the uprising began 11 months ago at more than 5,400.
However, Syrian opposition groups, including the LCC, recently put the death toll as high as 7,100.
Anti-government demonstrations were also spreading to the commercial hub of Aleppo, which has till now remained largely on the fringes of the crisis. Five people were killed there yesterday, according to activists. These figures also could not be independently confirmed.
"Protests are now regular in Aleppo outside the walls of the old city," a female teacher told Reuters. "There is no petrol or heating oil and the discontent is spreading. Previously we would hear of scattered protests only in the university and in poor districts, but now middle class areas are moving."
Pro-regime militiamen known as "shabiha" killed at least 10 people there last week after demonstrations broke out, opposition activists said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said children as young as 13 were being tortured by Syrian government forces. In a report, the group said they had documented cases of children who said they were kept in solitary confinement, beaten, sujected to electric shock, burnt with cigarettes and left to "dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time, centimetres above the floor".
"Children have not been spared the horror of Syria's crackdown," Lois Whitman, the children's rights director at the New York-based organisation, said.
"Syrian security forces have killed, arrested and tortured children in their homes, their schools, or on the streets. In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults."
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters