Syrian troops fire on protesters, killing 10

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Security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least 10, as tens of thousands poured into streets across Syria on today, chanting for the fall of President Bashar Assad and defying a fierce military siege of Hama, where tanks shelled residential districts around dawn.

The six-day-old assault on Hama, which has killed at least 100 people, seemed to do little to intimidate protesters, though the marches were smaller than previous Fridays, perhaps in part because this was the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Protests spread from the capital, Damascus, to the southern province of Daraa and to Deir al-Zour in the east. Other demonstrations were reported in Homs in the centre and in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.

"Hama, we are with you until death," a crowd marching through Damascus' central neighbourhood of Midan shouted, clapping their hands as they chanted, "We don't want you Bashar" and "Bashar Leave," according to amateur videos from today posted online by activists.

In another district of the capital, Qadam, protesters carried a banner reading, "Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent."

Security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas in several cities, activists said. At least seven people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, according to the London-based Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks protests. They said one person was killed in the suburb of Moaddamiya and two in the central city of Homs.

State-run TV said reported that two policemen were killed and eight wounded when they were ambushed in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan

Activists also said three people were wounded in Homs.

In Hama, government tanks shelled residential districts in Hama around 4am, just as people were beginning their daily fast, one resident told The Associated Press.

The evening before, the shelling hit around sunset, while residents were having their meal breaking the fast, the resident said.

"If people get wounded, it is almost impossible to take them to hospital," the resident said by telephone.

On previous Fridays — the day of the biggest protests — Hama has seen massive marches by hundreds of thousands that were the largest in Syria. But under the siege, with electricity, internet and phone services cut off and food supplies running short, there were no immediate reports of protests in the city today.

Hama, a city of 800,000 with a history of dissent, had fallen largely out of government control since June as residents turned on the regime and blockaded the streets against encroaching tanks. But Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers launched a ferocious military offensive that left corpses in streets Sunday and sent residents fleeing for their lives, according to residents.

State-run Syrian TV on Friday showed footage from inside Hama, with images of streets blocked by makeshift barricades set up by protesters. It showed a tank removing a large cement barrier as well as a bus that had its windshield shattered.

The report also showed a yellow taxi car with a dead man in the driver's seat and bloodstains on the door. A picture carried by state-run news agency SANA showed empty streets with debris and damaged cars.

SANA said the Syrian army is restoring "security and stability" to Hama after it was "taken over by terrorists."