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A day after protests, Syria makes arrests, hunts for 'armed group'

From Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
Druze Syrians in the Golan Heights march Saturday in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Druze Syrians in the Golan Heights march Saturday in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
  • Syria searching for members of 'armed group'
  • At least 11 people were killed on Friday
  • Around 20 arrests made in Daraa and Homs

(CNN) -- The anti-regime demonstrations pulsating across Syria have resulted in a security hunt for snipers and a wave of arrests Saturday.

Syrian security forces are searching for members of an "armed group" that killed "a number of citizens and security forces" in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Friday, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported on Saturday.

SANA cited an unidentified official source as saying that snipers from the group fired at civilians and security forces from rooftops. This is disputed by activists and eyewitnesses who told CNN that government snipers fired shots at unarmed protesters and government forces beat demonstrators.

"Security forces are pursuing the members of the armed group that terrorized the citizens through firing randomly," SANA reported, citing the source who doesn't identify the group in question.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces in the volatile southern city of Daraa and in Homs arrested on Saturday about 20 people who had demonstrated the day before.

Protests on Friday swept through Syria, one of the latest Arab countries to endure grassroots discontent.

At least 10 people, nine of them in Douma, were killed on Friday, according to human rights activists. Another person was killed in Al Sanameen near Daraa. SANA reported that a girl was killed when the armed group opened fire on civilians in the city of Homs.

Syria's emergency law to be 'studied'
In Douma, Syrians protest against govt

Along with the protests in Douma, Daraa, Homs, and Al Sanameen, people also took to the streets in Latakia, Baniyas and Kamishli on Friday, activists told CNN.

Before Friday's fighting, dozens of people were killed in the last two weeks across Syria, with many deaths reported in the southern city of Daraa, where popular demonstrations started, and the coastal city of Latakia, activists say.

Demonstrators, say they are oppressed and have poor living conditions under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad regime, and that they have been targeted for simply expressing themselves.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is calling for "authorities to release all prisoners of conscience in Syrian prisons, and stop political practice of arbitrary detention against political opponents and civil society activists and human rights, and carry out all procedures to ensure that the citizens of their legitimate right to peaceful assembly and expression of opinion and not to restrict these rights."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Saturday he is "deeply concerned" about the unrest in Syria, "where more civilian deaths have been reported during the latest popular demonstrations.

Ban condemned the violence "against peaceful demonstrations" and said Syria should heed international human rights obligations. He added his voice to demonstrators who are calling for change, saying "there is no alternative to an immediate and inclusive dialogue on comprehensive reforms."

Activists are upset that al-Assad failed to announce the lifting of the country's state of emergency during a national TV address on Wednesday and didn't properly address, in their view, complaints and concerns of people in the streets. On Thursday, however, Syria said it will study the idea of lifting the country's state of emergency and promptly investigate the deaths of civilians and troops in Daraa and Latakia.

Al-Assad ordered the Supreme Judicial Council to form a committee that would conduct "an immediate investigation in all cases that killed a number of civilians and military personnel."

The committee exploring the lifting of the emergency law is expected to complete the study before April 25. It will be made up of senior lawyers, SANA reported.

One of the key demands of the demonstrators who have taken to the streets in the country's major cities is the scrapping of the law, which has been in place since 1963.

The emergency law allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. It also bars detainees who haven't been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.