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Activists: 8 slain in Syria protest

By the CNN Wire Staff
A YouTube image from July 15 shows Syrian anti-government protesters running for cover from security forces in Damascus.
A YouTube image from July 15 shows Syrian anti-government protesters running for cover from security forces in Damascus.
  • NEW: About 200 young Syrian activists are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey
  • An 11-year-old boy and seven others were killed outside Damascus, activists report
  • More than 1,600 people have been killed since March, one group says
  • Syria's Cabinet has proposed political party, election measures

(CNN) -- Gunfire by security forces and rock-throwing by residents erupted in a town outside of Syria's volatile capital on Wednesday, with an 11-year-old boy and at least seven other people slain in the commotion, an activist group told CNN.

The incident occurred in Kanaker outside of Damascus, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"At 3 a.m. Wednesday, Syrian security forces and army soldiers stormed Kanaker amid heavy gunfire. Some residents threw rocks at the tanks and burned tires as many chanted 'Allah is the Greatest' in the west part of the town where seven tanks took positions there," the observatory said in a statement.

"Fourteen other tanks spread in two other directions. Four tanks withdrew from the eastern section of the town as waves of rocks hit them. Several civilians were injured and are being treated in makeshift clinics and mosques. Residents said the electricity has been cut out. The situation remains tense."

The bloodshed follows days of violent government crackdowns on protests across the country, including the cities of Aleppo in the west, Deir Ezzor in the northeast, and Douma in the Damascus area.

CNN cannot independently verify the events, and there was no immediate government response.

The unrest in Syria began in mid-March after teens were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Daraa. As the clashes intensified, demonstrators changed their demands, from calls for freedom and an end to abuses by the security forces to calls for the regime's overthrow.

There have been waves of arrests and killings in more than four months of ferment. Avaaz, an international political action group, said more than 1,600 people have already died in the crackdown and nearly 3,000 people have disappeared since the unrest started in mid-March.

They said about 26,000 have been arrested and more than 12,000 are detained. There have been reports of beatings and torture during detention, the group said.

Anti-government sentiment has taken root, and on Wednesday, about 200 young Syria activists were meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, for workshops on how to proceed with their activities, according to Syrian activist Hassan Chalabi of the Syrian National Salvage Congress. It is one of several meetings in and outside Syria of opposition members over the past few months.

Moaz Al Sibaai, the coordinator for the Syrian activists' network, said the opposition is working in several arenas to improve its work: improving communication with the media, developing secure telecommunications that can't be hacked or tracked, providing skills to protect themselves, teaching how to lobby against the regime by documenting human rights violations, and working on charity and relief.

"The harsher the regime is with its crackdown, the more creative we become in finding ways to cover the revolution," Al Sibaai said.

World powers have criticized the crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's government. The U.S. State Department this week said al-Assad is the "cause" of the country's "instability" and is not "the key to its stability."

"The behavior of Syria's security forces, including other such barbaric shootings, wide-scale arrests of young men and boys, brutal torture, and other abuses of basic human rights, is reprehensible," the U.S. State Department statement said Monday.

Syrian opposition forces have been calling for more political freedom and the government has announced reforms intended to address grass-roots grievances.

The Syrian Cabinet has proposed legislation that would permit new political parties in the country, which has been under Baath party rule for decades, and a measure aimed at regulating parliamentary and local council elections.

Ammar al Qirbi, the head of the National Organization for the Human Rights in Syria told CNN that these newly approved laws in Syria are very superficial.

"The problem in Syria is in the implementation of the laws rather than the laws themselves. And nothing has been implemented."

He said the election legislation calls for a committee of five members headed by a judge to monitor races.

"The problem in Syria is that the judicial system is corrupt," he said, adding, "the judiciary in Syria is not independent nor objective."

Another problem, he notes, is that the legislation organizes only the parliamentary and local administration elections; there is no mention of presidential races.

As for the political party measure, Syrian opposition members say it is no more than a publicity stunt.

Chalabi argued that the "regime is just easing international pressure to implement political and social reforms in Syria" and that it "is simply constitutionalizing dictatorship through this new law that lacks basic elements for political parties to be formed freely."

The proposal "does not fulfill the aspirations of the opposition and the people of Syria," Chalabi said.

Others say the prerequisites required to form a new party make it nearly impossible to do so.

Damascus lawyer Anwar Al Bounni, who heads the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research. stipulates that "any political party needs to have at least 2,000 members representing at least seven Syrian provinces before being active."

The parties cannot be active until they are legalized by a committee formed by the minister of interior, a judge and three other members appointed by the president, Al Bounni said. This stipulation, Al Bounni said, makes it impossible for opposition parties to establish a presence, despite the new law.

CNN's Rima Maktabi, Amir Ahmed, and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report

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