Tusenvis av mennesker marsjerer gjennom syriske byer og roper: «Solidaritet med Deraa!» Deler av 5. divisjon skal ha desertert i Deraa, og soldater fra 4. divisjon skyter på dem. 4. divisjon ledes av Bashar al-Assads bror Maher, som er hatet av befolkningen.

Meanwhile, an eyewitness in Deraa, speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday from close to the Omari Mosque that has been a focus for the uprising, described a scene of death and devastation.

He confirmed earlier testimony from a separate source of a split in the military forces sent by Assad to lay siege to the city.

The witness said he had collected the names of the dead from different neighbourhoods and counted 25 bodies in his own area.

«Some areas smell really bad due to the bodies rotting in the street. No one can collect them for fear of being shot,» he said, the sound of continuous gunfire audible over the phone. Those bodies which have been collected are being stored in refrigerated lorries, he said.

«Deraa is completely surrounded by tanks and armed troops. There are snipers on the roofs of government buildings and tall buildings. They are hiding behind water tanks and some are even hiding in the minarets of mosques.»

The source said not all members of the Fifth Division had defected, but those who had were attempting to protect civilians against attacks on them by the Fourth Division, led by Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad.

«Those who have defected are fighting on behalf of the people, helping them with information on the army’s movements and trying to protect civilians from attacks,» he said.

The eyewitness said he had witnessed the defection yesterday of some 20 soldiers of the Fifth Division who abandoned their unit and ran towards civilian houses. «I saw two soldiers gunned down and killed,» he said.

The witness’s comments came as Adnan Mahmud, the information minister, told the AFP news agency that the crackdown on protesters would continue, setting the scene for violent confrontations later Friday.

Our correspondent said: «There has been huge security presence: all entrances to capital are manned by security forces.»

Muslim Brotherhood backs protests

Significantly, Friday’s demonstrations have the backing of the outlawed Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was crushed by the regime in 1982.

It is the first time that the Brotherhood has called directly for protests in Syria since pro-democracy demonstrations against Assad, nearly erupted six weeks ago.

A declaration by the Brotherhood, sent to Reuters news agency by its leadership in exile on Thursday, said: «Do not let the regime besiege your compatriots. Chant with one voice for freedom and dignity. Do not allow the tyrant to enslave you. God is great.»

So far, Brotherhood has been trying to keep a low profile, as government has been trying to tie them to protests, Amin said.

Anti-government protests hit Syria


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