Syrian security forces trying to suppress the resilient anti-government uprising killed five people Saturday, including one person who was attending a funeral procession for a teenager shot dead in protests a day earlier, activists said.
Another of the dead was an activist for the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights who was assassinated while in hiding in a besieged eastern city, the group said.
The uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in mid-March amid the wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that have toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad retaliated with a military crackdown that, according to the U.N., has killed more than 3,000 people.
The funeral targeted Saturday was for 14-year-old Ibrahim al-Shayban, one of 11 people shot dead by Syrian troops on Friday. His funeral was held in the Damascus suburb of Midan. The shooting killed one person and wounded five, said the London-based Observatory and another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees.
An amateur video posted online showed scores of mourners at the funeral chanting, "Oh Syrian, raise your hand, we don't want Bashar." Others carried a banner that read "We will not let you down, Ibrahim. We will keep the pledge and punish those who killed you."
Although mass protests in Syria have shaken one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, it holds no territory and its leadership is still fragmented.
But there have been increasing reports of heavy fighting between security forces and army defectors, particularly in the country's north and in the flashpoint areas in and around the central city of Homs, located some 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Damascus.
Troops in armored vehicles opened fire on several neighborhoods in Homs Saturday, killing three people, said Syrian-based activist Mustafa Osso and the Local Coordination Committees. The city has been the scene of intense anti-regime protests since shortly after the uprising began seven months ago.
The activist killed Saturday, Ziad Tawfiq al-Obeidi, was targeted in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. He worked for the Observatory but had been in hiding since Syrian troops stormed the city two months ago. The group did not provide details on how he was killed.
On Saturday, Assad set up a 29-member committee to draft a new constitution, part of reforms the president promised in a failed attempt to sap the uprising of its energy. The committee will have four months to produce a new charter, the state-run news agency reported.
Assad's opponents, however, say they won't accept anything short of his departure.
On Thursday, senior officials with Assad's ruling Baath party said the committee will amend the constitution to allow for the formation of more political parties and to define presidential terms and elections. Syria has not had presidential elections in decades.
In Damascus, an opposition figure said his group is opposed to any foreign intervention in Syria, adding that dialogue is the only way out of the crisis.
Qadri Jamil, member of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation and leader of a Syrian communist party, warned during a news conference that Syria's crisis could drag on for a long time.
A statement by the front called for confidence-building measures by the government, including the release of all political detainees and an end to all acts of violence.
Protests in support of Syria's uprising have been held in several countries around the region.
On Saturday, hundreds of people in northern Iraq gathered to condemn the Syrian regime's crackdown. About 400 members of the Syrian Kurdish community took to the streets in Sulaimaniyah to call for Assad's ouster.
Kurds are a minority in Syria and face considerable government discrimination. Many have moved to the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq over the years to escape persecution.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.
Bassem Mroue can be reached on http://twitter.com/bmroue