Posted On: Friday, 18 May 2012
(CNN) -- Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in Aleppo and other cities Friday, an opposition group said.
Shots rang out as forces attempted to break up a demonstration that began after dawn prayers in the mixed, upper-middle-class city of Aleppo, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition network that counts casualties and organizes anti-government protests.
The city is widely considered a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad. While there have been a number of demonstrations in Aleppo since the Syrian uprising began, the number of people publicly calling for al-Assad's ouster has increased significantly.
The unrest culminated this week with thousands of demonstrators, who were mostly university students, according to opposition groups, which posted videos of the protest outside Aleppo University on YouTube.: Syria is Obama's Rwanda
The size of the recent protests raises questions about whether al-Assad is losing his grip on the country's largest city, where he has enjoyed support.
The increase in demonstrations in Aleppo comes at a critical time for both sides, which are vying for international support in the conflict that began in March 2011 with protests calling for political reforms and quickly devolved into an armed uprising following a brutal crackdown by al-Assad's forces.
The opposition took to social media to urge Syrians across the country Friday to take to the streets in solidarity with the Aleppo demonstrators.
A bomb apparently targeted security forces in Aleppo early Friday, killing one soldier and wounding five others, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime security forces also opened fire at anti-government protesters in the cities of Daraa, Jasem and Boukamal, the LCC said. The Observatory reported countrywide mass protests demanding the downfall of the regime.
At least five people were killed Friday in clashes across Syria, the LCC said. Two corpses were also found, the group said.
Al-Assad has dismissed the opposition as foreign-backed terrorists bent on destabilizing the government.
Opposition groups, including members of the rebel army, say al-Assad's government has been trying to hamper their efforts by accusing them falsely of links to terrorism.
CNN cannot independently verify reports of deaths and violence because the Syrian government has severely restricted access by international media.
There were also reports of security forces shelling the beleaguered opposition stronghold of Rastan in Homs province, the LCC said.
The reports of violence have cast severe doubts on the success of a peace plan brokered by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan.
Even so, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that 260 observers of 300 planned were already deployed in Syria to monitor the progress of the peace plan.
But Ban said recent attacks targeting the observers are "alarming and surprising."Map shows area of most recent clashes
"There were attacks against monitors, twice. Therefore, we're trying our best efforts to protect civilian population," he said.
"The deployment of monitors has some dampening effect. The number of [instances of] violence has reduced but not enough. Not all the violence has stopped. So we will continue, as much as we can, to protect the civilian population."
Meanwhile, Syria's Central Judicial Committee is investigating the attacks against the U.N. observers and will "sends as soon as possible the results of its investigations to the Central Committee," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Friday.
A video posted Thursday on YouTube purported to show thousands of anti-government protesters outside Aleppo University, where men in blue helmets could be seen. The U.N. observers wear blue helmets.
Meanwhile, another video surfaced on YouTube that purports to show Lebanon's military arresting a Syrian activist at a hospital in Tripoli where he was being treated for wounds he suffered when Lebanese forces attempted to break up clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian regime groups.
CNN can not independently confirm the authenticity of the videos.
In recent days, violence has spilled over into Lebanon and Turkey, where thousands of Syrians have fled. At least one person was killed and an undetermined number were wounded Thursday in renewed clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between factions supporting and opposing the uprising in Syria, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.
The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died in the 14 months of conflict, while opposition groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.