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Syrian forces kill as many as 24, opposition source says

By the CNN Wire Staff
An image sent to CNN by an anonymous Syrian activist shows women protesting in Baniyas on Saturday, April 16.
An image sent to CNN by an anonymous Syrian activist shows women protesting in Baniyas on Saturday, April 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Opposition source confirms five names of people killed in Talbisa
  • Some killings took place at a funeral in Talbisa, an opposition source says
  • Banias is like a prison, a witness says
  • The state-run news agency says "armed criminal groups" are "terrorizing citizens"

(CNN) -- Syrian security forces killed as many as 24 people over the past two days in areas where anti-government protests have been under way, an opposition source said Monday.

Some of the victims were killed in Talbisa when security forces fired on mourners at a funeral Sunday, opposition sources said.

Forces also raided homes and shot people on the streets in Talbisa, said Wissam Tarif, a rights activist who is outside the country and in communication with sources inside the country.

Tarif learned that 11 people were killed in Talbisa and 21 were wounded, but later lost communication with the town and could only confirm the names of five people killed in Talbisa.

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Five people were killed in the city of Latakia and 40 were injured, Tarif said. Many of the wounded were then kidnapped from a hospital and taken to a military base in Latakia, he said.

In the city of Homs, near Talbisa, eight people were killed, including a 17-year-old boy, and 21 people were injured, Tarif said.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA carried a story Monday saying that a policeman "was martyred and 11 police and security personnel were injured on Sunday when a group of armed criminals opened fire on them in the town of Talbisa near Homs."

"An official source at the Ministry of Interior said the armed group opened fire randomly, terrorizing citizens and cutting off public roads, noting that the police forces were unarmed and were keeping order," it said.

The "armed criminal groups" cut off a major roadway, and a military unit was mobilized "to put an end to the armed groups' crime spree and prevent them from cutting off the highway again," the SANA report said.

"Upon the unit's approach, the armed criminal groups' members who were situated in buildings near the highway opened fire on the military unit, which returned fire and killed three members of the armed groups and wounded 15, while five army personnel were wounded."

Protests against the Syrian government began in mid-March amid the wave of unrest sweeping through the Arab world.

A witness in the coastal city of Banias on Monday described it as being like "a prison -- we cannot get out." Security forces had set up checkpoints and had a list of wanted people who had participated in protests, the witness said. Schools and most shops were closed, as people refused to work until the regime is toppled, the witness said. "People are helping each other here" in a way not seen before, the witness said.

At huge demonstrations in Banias over the weekend, people called for freedom -- and some carried shrouds, symbolizing their readiness to die for their freedom.

The Syrian government said last week that one of its soldiers was shot and killed in Banias.

The opposition in Syria has been demanding the repeal of the emergency law, which allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. The law also bars detainees who haven't been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.

On Saturday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad urged his new Cabinet to lift the country's state of emergency, which has been in effect since 1963.

In a speech to his new government, published in English on SANA's website, he promised change. "The world is moving fast around us, and we need to move at the same pace so that we can say that we are developing," he said.

He also said an investigation committee is looking into the recent deaths of protesters and sent his condolences to the families of those killed during the unrest.

"We consider them all martyrs, whether they were civilians, members of the police or the armed forces," al-Assad said.

Scores of people have died and al-Assad's government has been criticized for using lethal force.

Human Rights Watch, a prominent humanitarian watchdog group, issued a report Friday detailing "torture and ill-treatment" of protesters over the past month, and United Nations' human rights experts released a statement deploring the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

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