DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday appointed a committee to draft a new constitution within fours months, as activists reported more killings, arrests and gunfire in several cities.
The official SANA news agency said Assad issued a decree establishing a national committee to draft a new constitution in a period "not exceeding four months from the date of its creation."
The 29-member committee, headed by former justice minister Mizhar al-Annbary, includes Qadri Jamil, a communist member of the so-called "internal opposition" movement.
Mohammed Said Bkheitan, a senior official in the ruling Baath party, said in the week that the new document would require a two-thirds approval of the Assad-dominated parliament before being submitted to a referendum.
A new constitution has been a key demand of a protest movement that erupted in March 15 -- initially calling for greater freedoms and later demanding the ouster of the Assad regime.
Activists, meanwhile, reported at least six people killed by security forces on Saturday, which marked seven months of the revolt.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a members of its network, Ziad Rafiq al-Obeidi, was killed by security forces in Deir Ezzor. He had gone into hiding in August during military operations in the area.
In Homs, a hotbed of dissent, the Syrian army backed by armoured vehicles cordoned off and stormed several neighbourhoods, including Qusayr and Warsheh, which were rocked by heavy gunfire, said the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an anti-regime activist network.
The Britain-based Observatory, quoting activists, confirmed security force operations in Homs, and said at least three people were killed in the city and one nearby.
"The army opened fire on all the entrances of the Al-Nazihin neighbourhood in Homs, leading to the death of a young man who was heading to work," it said.
Two other people were killed in the city while an 18-year-old youth was shot dead in Talbisseh area of Homs province, the Observatory said.
Meanwhile, in Damascus, security forces shot one person dead at a funeral, the LCC said.
"A young man was killed when se
Security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for the child martyr Ibrahim al-Sheban," in Midan, a commercial neighbourhood of Damascus, LCC reported.
The activist network said that more than 15,000 people, including women and children, came out to mourn the boy, who was one of 12 killed on Friday when security forces fired at anti-regime demonstrators in several towns and cities.
In Idlib, a northwestern province near Turkey, Syrian troops pushed an operation to hunt down defectors, arresting 31 people, the Observatory said.
"Since dawn, Syrian security forces have conducted a search and arrest campaign in and around the (Idlib village of) Kfar Nubul looking for an intelligence officer who deserted," the watchdog said.
The LCC for its part said gunfire was heard in several towns in Idlib, citing reports of defections in the area and a night demonstration broken up by security forces.
And gunfire rocked "most of the neighbourhoods" in the flashpoint southern city of Daraa, where the movement calling for greater freedoms and the fall of Assad's regime started in mid-March.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Friday that more than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in the fierce crackdown on dissent.
But security forces are facing mounting armed resistance and defections, according to activist reports, with clashes between soldiers and defectors leaving 36 dead, including 25 soldiers, on Thursday alone.
Pillay said Syria risked "a full-blown civil war" unless the international community took action.
Arab foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss Syria's crackdown on protests at the request of oil-rich Gulf states, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.
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