Tens of thousands of anti-regime protesters took to the streets across Syria on Friday in defiance of a lethal five day military crackdown centered in the city of Hama. Organizers, "God is with us. Are you?"
The death toll in the focal protest city of Hama this week topped 250 bringing sharp international condemnation and increased sanctions to the embattled doorstep of President Bashar Assad.
Protests included a massive demonstration in the Arbaeen district just outside Damascus, the capital, which has largely been calm amid the violence elsewhere in the country.
In what is increasingly the norm in Syria, Assad gunmen forces opened fire killiing at least five as protesters rallied after Friday prayers, witnesses say.
"Because of the crackdown in Hama, people all over went out on the streets in solidarity," an opposition spokesman told reporters. "This is what happens when the government tries to stop us."
Video showed one protest filling the streets of the central city of Homs, and more demonstrations spread in cities and towns around the country, including Dara in the south and Qamishli in the north.
Thousands were rallying Friday in Deir Alzour despite security forces that have had the eastern city surrounded for days, according to one resident reached by phone. Security forces by late Friday afternoon were only watching the protests in the city, where bread, gasoline and other staples were running short, the man said.
Friday typically has been the greatest day of confrontations in the six months of uprisings in Syria. Assad's security forces launched tank offensives in the protest center of Hama and other cities around the country early this week to stave off an expected surge of protests during Ramadan.
Hama, still under siege, was one of the few major cities devoid of protests Friday.
The bloodshed in Hama on Friday triggered one of the first condemnations by an Arab government, a day after Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, joined the United States in warning Assad to stop the killing or face the end of his regime.
The UN Security Council adopted a statement Wednesday condemning the Syrian government for ongoing human rights violations, including the use of excessive force against civilians.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier more than 2,000 protesters had been killed by Assad's regime thus far.