Six killed in Syria protests as death toll climbs to 3,000

Syrian forces shot dead at least six people protesting against President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, activists claimed, as the United Nations said more than 3,000 people had been killed in the unrest and called for international protection for civilians.

Yesterday's shootings, near Aleppo and in suburbs of Damascus, occurred as protesters took to the streets after weekly Muslim prayers. In the eastern city of Qamishli, near the Turkish border, 20,000 people marched to honour a Kurdish activist, Mishaal al-Tammo, who was killed a week ago.

"The onus is on all members of the international community to take protective action in a collective manner, before the continual ruthless repression and killings drive the country into a full-blown civil war," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. "As more members of the military refuse to attack civilians and change sides, the crisis is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle."

Ms Pillay said at least 100 people had been killed in the past 10 days. The Syrian government blames the violence on foreign-backed armed groups, which it says have killed 1,100 soldiers and police. Mr Assad, pictured, was quoted by state media this week as saying Syria had "passed the most difficult stage" of the uprising.