By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces shot dead 11 protesters when they fired live ammunition to disperse pro-democracy demonstrations after Friday prayers, activists said.
Across Syria, crowds of protesters shouted slogans and carried placards pleading for the world to help them against a bloody crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"Help Syria. It is bleeding," read placards carried by protesters in the southern Damascus suburb of Hajar al-Aswad, home to tens of thousands of refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights, about 30 km (20 miles) away.
The slogans and placards were on video footage aired by Syrian residents on the Internet. Syrian authorities expelled most independent media when the uprising began in March.
Faced with expanding street protests demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule, Assad has sent troops and tanks into cities and towns across the country of 20 million at the heart of the Arab Middle East.
Citing reports from the street, activists said nine of the killings occurred in the province of Homs, scene of some of the largest demonstrations demanding Assad's ouster. Two other protesters were shot dead in suburbs of Damascus.
"We have seen more of an all-out effort to crush Homs. But the city is big and its countryside has also risen," said activist Hassan, who gave only his first name.
Protesters also came under attack in the tribal region of Deir al-Zor on the border with Iraq and the city of Hama, activists said.
Human rights organizations and Western diplomats have reported assassinations of protest leaders, torture of civilians and killings of political prisoners in the last two weeks that have sparked international outrage.
Syria's ruling elite have fallen under Western sanctions that include the small but important oil sector on their target list. China and Russia have shielded Assad from Western proposals for U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The United States and Europe have shown little sign of thinking about repeating the sort of military intervention that was instrumental in the demise of Libya's Muammar Gaddaffi.
"The opposition is against foreign military intervention. But we want protection in any form to stop the slaughter," Alaa Youssef, an activist in the northwestern province of Idlib on the border with Turkey, told al Jazeera television.
Most Syrian opposition figures say they do not want foreign military intervention but would welcome "international protection" to prevent the killing of civilians.
The military crackdown has killed at least 2,700 people, including 100 children, according to the United Nations, while authorities say 700 police and army have been killed by "terrorists" and "mutineers."
Alarmed by reports of increasing violence by Assad's forces, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Syrian authorities "to end their brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, end their acts of reprisal against activists and their families."
Assad has said foreign powers want to divide Syria under the guise of wanting democracy and that any other country would react to the six-month uprising in the same way.
He is a member of Syria's minority Alawite sect and has ruled the mainly Sunni Muslim country since inheriting power from his late father Hafez al-Assad 11 years ago.
His father faced a secular and Islamist challenge to his rule in the 1980s and used the military to crush his opponents, killing tens of thousands of people.
Amnesty International said a Syrian teenager, whose mutilated body was discovered by chance by her family in a Homs morgue while there to identify her brother's corpse, was thought to be the first female to die in custody during the uprising.
Zainab al-Hosni, 18, had been decapitated, her arms cut off and skin removed, Amnesty said.
It said she was abducted by men suspected of belonging to Assad's forces in July in an apparent attempt to put pressure on her activist brother Mohammad Deeb al-Hosni to turn himself in.
Their deaths brought Amnesty's number of reported deaths in custody to 103 since the protests started.
"I can understand the killings -- Hafez al-Assad killed 60,000 people in the 80s and the 90s. But I don't understand the mutilation of bodies, the rape of men and women and the killing of children," Haitham Maleh, a lawyer and former judge who had spend nine years as a political prisoner, told Reuters.
"Maybe the regime thinks it can win this way. But it is just stripping itself of all morality. The barrier of fear has been broken for good in Syria. The people will bring this regime down.
With heavily armed troops occupying main squares in cities across Syria, protests have spread to areas like the Damascus suburbs and rural Homs and Hama.
Protesters are avoiding open boulevards that do not provide cover when they come under fire and grouping in older, densely populated quarters where they can disperse into alleyways.
"Traitor is he who kills his own people," shouted protesters crammed into a small street in the eastern Damascus suburb of Erbin.
The official state news agency said five members of the security police were wounded in an ambush by an "armed terrorist group" near a village in Deir al-Zor.
Assad has promised reform and has changed some laws, but the opposition say the measures made no difference.
(Additional reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Ralph Gowling)