BEIRUT -- Protests erupted throughout Syria, including in the capital and the suburbs of the second largest city, Friday after weekly Muslim prayers as a peaceful popular uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad and his family entered a second month.
Demonstrations erupted in and around the capital, Damascus, with reports of protests breaking out near a mosque in the city's Zahirah Jadidah district, less than two miles from the city center, and the Mezze district, activists said.
"I am afraid that the regime will answer our calls with massive and unbridled violence, and that even more blood will be spilled by this government," a 50-year-old woman who said she was taking part in the protests said in an interview hours before the protests began. "We knew that there would be a high price to pay for our freedom, but we've taken the first steps now, finally, and we will not turn back."
At least 2,000 protesters took to the streets of the Aleppo suburb of Ain Arab, chanting "God, Syria, Freedom, and that's it!" and calling to lift a military siege on Syrian cities, including Dara, the flashpoint of the uprising, Baniyas and Homs.
Analysts have speculated that the presence of security forces as well as the huge stake that prosperous merchant classes and religious minorities hold in the Assad regime have prevented protests in Aleppo and Damascus.
Protesters also took to the streets in the western Sunni Muslim strongholds of Hama and Homs as well as in the ethnic Kurdish cities of Qamishli and Amoudeh in the far northeast, according to activist accounts and amateur video footage posted to the Internet.
Footage posted on the Internet showed a demonstration in the historic city of Raqqa where demonstrators chanted, "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves to the martyr."
In the restless suburbs outside the capital, many of the lower-middle-class Sunni enclaves -- who oppose the decades-long domination of the Assad family and its minority Alawite Muslim coreligionists -- also broke out in protest.
Security forces, including plainclothes Alawite militiamen called shabiha, appear determined to squelch the rebellion with force. A small protest erupted in the besieged coastal city of Baniyas, but it was quickly crushed by security forces, an activist said.
Others reported gunfire targeting demonstrators in Homs' Bab Idrib district.
"We are about to root out the rats from Homs, and from every other place in Syria," said Fadi, a self-described shabiha member in Homs who declined to give his last name.
Human rights activists say at least 682 have been killed and 9,500 arrested in a massive crackdown, with some in Dara and Baniyas rounded up and held in local soccer stadiums.
"After being arrested, people get tortured and released after some days, so that they can tell others about their horrible experiences," said a statement released by activists. "It is the same strategy Iran has used in the green revolution in 2009 to scare people and they think this way the protesters will stop demonstrating."
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