12 die in Syria protests

Twelve people have been killed in violence rocking a seaside Mediterranean city in Syria.

Twelve people have been killed in violence rocking a seaside Mediterranean city in Syria.

The country’s state-run news agency said unknown armed elements yesterday attacked neighbourhoods in Latakia, shooting from rooftops and terrorising people.

Ten people, including security forces, residents, as well as two members of the “armed elements”, died in the violence.

Another 200 people were wounded, mostly from the security forces, a report from the Syrian government said today.

Syrian army units deployed in Latakia last night following a day of violence and chaos in which protesters and the government traded accusations of violence and incitement.

Sectarian divisions are a deeply sensitive topic in Syria, where President Bashar Assad has used increased economic freedom and prosperity to win the allegiance of the prosperous Sunni Muslim merchant classes, while punishing dissenters with arrest, imprisonment and physical abuse.

Mr Assad has placed his fellow Alawites, adherents of a mystical offshoot of Shiite Islam, into most positions of power in Syria.

He has built a close relationship with Iran, allowing the Shiite powerhouse to extend its influence into Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, where it provides money and weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah militants.

The surge of anti-government unrest in the Arab world has until now threatened almost exclusively regimes seen as allies of the US and Western powers.

Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain have maintained warm relations with Washington, and even Libya had growing ties with Britain, Italy and the rest of Europe.

The unrest in Syria, which exploded nationwide on Friday after affecting Deraa for a week, is a new and highly unpredictable element of the Arab Spring, one that could both weaken a foe of the West and cause dangerous instability in one of the more fragile and potentially chaotic countries of the Mideast, experts said.

On Friday, Syrian troops and soldiers opened fire in at least six cities, towns and villages, killing some 15 protesters, according to witnesses, activists and footage posted on social networking sites.

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