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Daraa death toll rises as Assad fires local governor

Human rights activists said at least 15 people were killed Wednesday in the volatile Syrian city of Daraa, the focal point of a week of anti-regime protests, while state-run television reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had fired Daraa Governor Faysal Ahmad Khaltoum.

Activists and residents said security forces opened fire on protestors outside the Omari Mosque early Wednesday, after hundreds of people had gathered overnight to prevent police from storming it, and that shooting had continued sporadically over the course of the day.

One activist said "at least nine people were killed in the attack on the mosque, including a child, a woman and two members of the security forces," and that six more were killed in attacks on a funeral procession later in the day.

"At least thirteen were killed in the overnight attack on the mosque, and we estimate five or six were shot dead during the funeral procession," said another activist.

Earlier, an AFP reporter saw two bodies being brought into the city hospital shortly after gunfire broke out in the afternoon around the mosque, where activists have been holed up for a week.

An 11-year-old girl was also killed by a stray bullet when security forces allegedly opened fire on a funeral procession Wednesday for two of those killed overnight, the activist said.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has promised to probe the Daraa killings, but analysts warn that the situation is turning increasingly volatile.

Daraa, a tribal city near the Jordanian border, has witnessed daily protests for the past week against the regime of Assad, whose Baath party has ruled Syria uncontested for 40 years.

Syria, a country infamous for its iron grip on security that is still under a 1963 emergency law banning demonstrations, is the latest state in the Middle East to witness an uprising against a long-running autocratic regime. 

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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