“A Latakia resident told me that the police were killed because they tried to separate them. I can’t tell if it is true and we have not confirmed it,” Houry said.
“So far the army has sided clearly with the authorities, like in Latakia, where the army has deployed,” he added, raising concern that the “killing of civilians will continue unless real reforms are enacted and security forces cease using live fire.”
Deraa is a bastion of Sunni Muslim tribes who resent power and wealth amassed by the Alawite minority. During protests, a statue of late President Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years until his death in 2000, was toppled.
Asked about security forces opening fire, government spokeswoman Reem Haddad told Al Jazeera on Sunday: “The security forces were given very strict orders not to shoot at anyone and they did not shoot at anyone at all until those people shot at them and at other citizens.
“Now obviously when you have people shooting then it becomes a matter of national security and you can’t just have that happening,” she said.
On whether Assad might make an address to the Syrian nation, Haddad said: “I think it’s very possible that the president will be addressing the Syrian people very soon.”
The United States, France and Britain have urged Assad to refrain from violence. A week ago they launched a U.N.-backed air campaign to protect opponents of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
But analysts see little chance that heavily armed Syria, which is part of an anti-Western, anti-Israel alliance with Iran and sits within a web of conflicts across the region, may face the sort of foreign intervention seen in North Africa.
Syria has a close alliance with Iran and links to the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and the Lebanese Shi’ite political and military group Hezbollah. Its allies in the region have yet to comment on the unrest.
Assad was welcomed as the fresh face of reform when he replaced his father, a master of Middle Eastern politics, who brooked no dissent at home and made refusal to bend on the Arab-Israeli conflict the heart of Syrian policy for 30 years.
But Western diplomats say resistance from the “old guard” has slowed the political and economic liberalization promised by Assad, an articulate and mild-mannered leader, while foreign policy confrontations upset efforts to improve the Arab state’s ties with the West.
Among the targets of popular anger have been Maher al-Assad, a brother of the president and head of the Republican Guard, a special security force, and Rami Makhlouf, a cousin who runs big businesses and is accused by Washington of corruption.