Hundreds of Syrians march from the centre of Damascus’ Old City towards Souq Al Hamadiya Street on Friday, March 25. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Security troops stormed a protest sit-in near the capital Damascus, arresting about 200 people in the midnight raid, activists said on Saturday.

The activists said up to 4,000 people were demonstrating in the town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus when electricity was cut.
They said troops attacked the protesters with sticks and clubs, injuring several, but those reports could not be independently confirmed.

An eyewitness who drove to Douma Saturday said there were no traces of a fight in the area and shops were open.

As calm returned to Syrian cities on Saturday, a human rights activist said authorities released 70 political prisoners.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad faced the deepest crisis of his 11 years in power on Saturday, with one city in the grip of anti-government protesters and unrest spreading to other parts of Syria.

On Friday, Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in the town of Sanameen, killing 20 people, as thousands of Syrians took to the streets in major cities, including Damascus, a witness told Al Jazeera television.

"There are more than 20 martyrs .... they [security forces] opened fire haphazardly," the witness said. Witnesses also said five demonstrators were killed in Latakia.

There was a chorus of international condemnation of the shootings of demonstrators. But analysts said Syria was unlikely to face the kind of foreign intervention currently seen in Libya.

In pictures: Demonstrations rock Syrian cities

Protesters in the capital and the troubled southern city of Daraa demanded reforms and an end to corruption. Following Friday noon prayers, demonstrators left in groups from various villages in support of the people in Daraa as part of a nationwide call for protests on Facebook.

The Syria Revolution 2011, a group on the social network, attracted more than 78,000 fans. It declared March 25 as the ‘Day of Dignity' and called for rallies at mosques across Syria after a week of deadly protests in Daraa.

Earlier in the day, the Imam of Al Omari Mosque in Daraa, Ahmad Al Sayasneh, told Gulf News that he held discussions with security officers after which they agreed to withdraw from the city centre.

"I advised the officers to accept peaceful demonstrations in the city, especially during the funerals of the martyrs killed during the previous week. They promised me to stay patient and allow peaceful protests for the time being," Al Sayasneh said.

He said Daraa is tense and every family has lost a member or a cousin.

Meanwhile in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he would only hand over power to "safe hands," in a defiant speech to massed supporters after talks with a top defector failed to defuse the crisis.

Saleh and top dissident Major General Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar, considered the second most-powerful man in Yemen, failed to strike a deal late on Thursday.

Clashes were also reported in Bahrain and Jordan on Friday. At least 100 people were injured in anti-government protests in Jordan.