Syria’s armed forces celebrated Martyrs’ Day on Friday, reported local news agencies.

Friday May 6 was Martyrs’ Day – an annual commemoration of Syrian nationalists executed by the Ottoman wali Jamal Pasha in 1916 in Merjeh Square in Damascus.

Traditionally on this day the president of Syria visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Mount Qassioun overlooking Damascus.

Martyrs’ Day has come to be a symbol of national resistance and commemoration for Syrians killed in all conflicts since 1916. Since 1974 the day has been a national holiday.

Meanwhile, protests and clashes continued around the country in the seventh week of unrest since people took to the streets in Dara’a on March 18.

In what was dubbed the “Day of Defiance” by online activists who called for mass protests in support of Dara’a, 11 soldiers and policemen were reported killed by state and foreign media while international media said at least 26 protesters were also slain.

Humanitarian teams were allowed to enter Dara’a last Thursday where they visited a government hospital. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been attempting to co-ordinate a response to the crisis.

The privately-owned Al-Watan daily reported “harsh battles” had taken place in Banias, as well as in Hama and Homs.

Tanks and troops entered Banias and at least six protesters – including three women – were killed “as government forces continued to repress demonstrations there” Day Press News agency quoted a statement from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.

Banias is home to one of the country’s two oil refineries and is the main export centre for Syrian oil.

Reuters quoted a tribal leader from Deir ez-Zor who said four demonstrators were killed there.

Smaller clashes were also reported in numerous other towns and villages across the country, whilst a minor demonstration in support of the president was reported in Kafr Sousseh in central Damascus by state media.

On Friday EU officials agreed an asset freeze and travel restrictions on 14 regime officials following the US, which imposed its own sanctions last week.

The dispute over casualties continued as rights groups and activists told international reporters that as many as 800 protesters may now have been killed, while the government maintains the figure is far lower, and half of those killed are from the army or security forces.

According to the government, the crackdown has been in response to “armed groups that threaten state security” while opposition figures say the government is trying to crush dissent.

On Saturday SANA said security forces had seized another cache of arms and detained “a number of wanted terrorist members”.

An unnamed foreign diplomat told Reuters yesterday that as many as 7,000 Syrians have been arrested since March 18.

Finally, digital rights advocacy NGO the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned that a ’semi-professional’ attack was underway against Facebook users and private information could be re-routed to Syrian authorities.

Internet services run by Syriatel and MTN were down across the country for two days at the weekend in what MTN said was a “global technical problem”.

Syria Today (Syria)