http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 56 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least one person with a gunshot to the head as soldiers tried to head off demonstrations by occupying mosques and blocking public squares, activists said.

The death in the central city of Homs marks the latest bloodshed in what has become a weekly rhythm during the two-month uprising, with protesters taking to the streets every Friday, only to be met with bullets, tear gas and batons by security forces.

Leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish said Friday’s victim was shot in the head. A second activist in Homs put the death toll at two.

“At first they opened fire in the air but the people continued their way, and then they shot directly into the crowd,” the second activist said, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals from the government.

He said security forces dressed in black and pro-regime gunmen known as “shabiha” were doing the shooting.

Human rights groups say that between 700 and 850 people have been killed since the start of the revolt against President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime.

Thousands in Syria have persevered with the demonstrations, turning up in huge numbers on Fridays despite one of the most brutal crackdowns since a wave of popular uprisings began sweeping the Arab world. This Friday, three rallies were held in Damascus — the largest number of protests held at one time in the capital.

Security forces fired tear gas in the capital’s Zahra neighborhood, forcing scores of people to disperse. In nearby Mazzeh, protesters ran away when security forces arrived. In Muhajereen, security forces used batons to scatter dozens of people, activists said.

Assad has come under scathing criticism for the crackdown, with the United States and Europe imposing sanctions.

In several key areas, residents said Syrian soldiers occupied mosques and blocked off major public areas Friday to prevent people from leaving their homes.

“The army has transformed major mosques in the city into military barracks where soldiers sleep, eat and drink,” said a resident in the coastal town of Banias. “They’ve put up barriers and sandbags around the mosques.”

Up to 1,200 security forces have deployed in the public square in the center of town, and soldiers and armed thugs have broken into shops, offices and homes to intimidate people.

“It is tragic in every sense of the word,” he said.

There is a media blackout in Syria, making it impossible to confirm witness accounts independently. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their personal safety.

Other protests were around the northeastern city of Qamishli, where about 5,000 people marched in the streets chanting “Freedom!” and “Freedom to political prisoners!” said rights activist Mustafa Osso.

Thousands also were demonstrating in the nearby towns of Amouda and Derbasiyeh, he said.

Some shots were fired, but the protesters did not disperse for long, he added.

The government’s bloody crackdown has increased in intensity in recent days.

The army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 19 people, a human rights group said.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton slammed the Syrian government’s assault on demonstrators and said the violence indicates that Assad is weak, though she stopped short of saying he must quit.

“Treating one’s own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness,” Clinton said during a trip to Greenland.

The revolt was touched off in mid-March by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall. Since then, the protests have spread nationwide and the death toll already has exceeded those seen during the uprisings in Yemen and Tunisia.

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AP writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.

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