Government forces open fire on civilians in Syrian town

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Security forces opened fire on demonstrators throughout Syria yesterday as anti-government protesters rallied in support of Al-Rastan, the besieged town where army defectors are waging a fierce battle against the regime.

Gunmen attacked civilians who took to the streets shouting their support for the people of Al-Rastan, with activists coming under fire in the cities of Hama and Homs, and the towns and suburbs around Damascus.

One video uploaded on to YouTube showed protesters in Qadam, an area of Damascus, waving a banner saying "Rastan will overthrow the regime", while an activist in the eastern suburb of Qaboun told The Independent that the area was swarming with government troops. "Qaboun is under siege," he said. "The army are everywhere."

Shaam News Network, a web-based group run by Syrians to publicise the uprising, reported that security forces were using machine-gun fire to quell the demonstrations in Homs, while in Hama, groups of shabiha militiamen were filmed roaming the streets.

Since the insurrection began in mid-March, the protest movement has been largely peaceful – despite attempts by President Bashar al-Assad to blame "armed gangs" for the trouble. The violence in Al-Rastan appears to be the first major armed confrontation with government forces.