Recent developments in the region until September 22

U.S. President Obama says no shortcut to Palestinian state other than negotiations

Yemen violence mounting as GCC chief leaves Sana’a without reaching solution

African Union officially recognizes Libya’s transitional council

NATO extends Libya mission for three months

EU slaps fresh sanctions on Syria

Erdogan for Syria sanctions

* The Palestinian Issue:

President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that there could be no shortcut to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as he sought to head off a looming diplomatic crisis for the Middle East and U.S. policy there.

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N. - if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," the president told United Nations delegates. "Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side.

Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians - not us - who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them."

But in the speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Obama stopped short of directly calling on the Palestinians to drop their plan to seek statehood recognition from the U.N. Security Council. U.S. officials were working furiously behind the scenes to persuade the Palestinians.

With the limits of U.S. influence on the moribund peace process never more clear, Obama had no new demands for the Israelis, either, beyond saying that both sides deserved their own state and security.

"Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted," Obama said. "That is the path to a Palestinian state."

The push by the Palestinians threatens to isolate Israel even further, and divide the U.S. from allies in the Arab world who support the statehood resolution.

Obama was to follow up his speech with separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as he seeks to coax both parties back to direct peace talks.

At the same time, U.S. officials are conceding that they probably cannot prevent Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas from moving forward with a request to the U.N. Security Council for full Palestinian membership.

The Obama administration has pledged to veto any Palestinian statehood bid, arguing that only direct peace negotiations, not a U.N. vote, would allow the Palestinians to achieve the benefits of statehood.

It's a much different outcome than Obama hoped for a year ago, when he wanted to herald by now a negotiated agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. U.S. persuasion and pressure failed to achieve that result and now peace again looks distant. Obama put the blame for that on Israel and the Palestinians.

"Despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences," Obama said.

Obama's remarks on Israel and the Palestinians came in a speech that also swept up the convulsions of what Obama called "a remarkable year."

He talked about the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship in Libya, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, and the emergence of South Sudan as the world's newest nation.

"Something is happening in our world. The way things have been is not the way they will be," Obama said. "The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Technology is putting power in the hands of the people." Obama also spoke of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited and is winding down. "We are poised to end these wars from a position of strength," he said.

The president spoke of hope for the world, and a striving for freedom in "a time of transformation."

Yet the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians looks as intractable as ever.

Recognizing that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas seems intent to proceed, Obama is expected to privately ask him to essentially drop the move for statehood recognition after Abbas delivers a formal letter of intent to the U.N. on Friday.

A new approach being considered would see the "quartet" of Mideast peace mediators - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - issue a statement addressing both Palestinian and Israeli concerns and setting a timetable for a return to the long-stalled peace talks, officials close to the diplomatic talks said.

Israel would have to accept its pre-1967 borders with land exchanges as the basis for a two-state solution, and the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel's Jewish character if they were to reach a deal quickly, officials close to the talks said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing diplomacy.

Obama was welcomed to the hall with polite applause from the delegations gathered for his address. There was little response from the audience throughout his speech, even on the hot-button issue of Middle East peace.

Facing a partisan struggle over deficits and jobs at home, Obama spoke to problems in the world economy, and made a brief plug for his new plans to create jobs, already running into Republican opposition on Capitol Hill.

"We must take urgent and coordinated action once more," he said. "In a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together." But Obama returned repeatedly to one theme: "Peace is hard," he said several times. "Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible."

* Yemen:

Renewed violence in the Yemeni capital killed at least nine people on Thursday as street battles broke out between forces loyal to the regime and its opponents, medical and security officials said.

The officials said six people died in central Sana’a when government forces shelled thousands gathered for a protest there with mortars and rocket propelled grenades. Snipers on rooftops also targeted the protesters at Change Square, the epicenter of Yemen's seven-month-old uprising, and adjacent streets.

Three bystanders were killed by a mortar shell in Sanaa's northern Hassaba district, the officials also said. The district is home to several of the tribal chiefs who switched sides in March to join the opposition against the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The latest deaths took to about a 100 the number of people killed in Sana’a and elsewhere in Yemen since Sunday, in the worst bout of bloodshed in months. The deaths also shattered hope that a cease-fire negotiated on Tuesday could be restored and significantly diminished the chances for a proposal by Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors to end the crisis.

The Gulf plan, backed by the United States, provides for Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity and for the vice president to take the reins of power until elections are held.

Yemen's turmoil began in February as the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world set off largely peaceful protests in the deeply impoverished and unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula that is also home to an al-Qaeda offshoot blamed for several nearly successful attempts to attack the United States.

Saleh's government responded with a heavy crackdown, with hundreds killed and thousands wounded so far.

The officials who gave Thursday's casualty toll spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. They said that scores of homes and stores across central Sana’a were damaged or caught fire as a result of random shelling blamed on government forces.

The shelling also ruptured many water tanks traditionally stored on rooftops of Yemeni homes, inundating the streets below. Sana’a has for weeks suffered from acute water and power shortages, forcing residents to rely on power generators and buy water extracted from wells and sold on a thriving black market.

Street battles broke out between armed tribesmen opposed to Saleh and their rivals in several locations across Sana’a on Thursday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

* Libya:

The African Union has officially recognized Libya's National Transitional Council as the country's legitimate leadership, the group's chairman said Tuesday.

The announcement was transmitted by the office of South African President Jacob Zuma, six days after he hosted a meeting of the AU's special panel on Libya in Pretoria.

The AU's reluctance to formally recognize Libya's new leadership had created a split on the continent, as about 20 nations had already established ties.

The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who holds the AU's rotating chair, made the announcement after consulting with the panel in New York, ahead of the UN General Assembly, the AU statement said.

Obiang Nguema "hereby announces that the African Union recognizes the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the representative of the Libyan people as they form an all-inclusive transitional government that will occupy the Libyan seat at the African Union."

"The African Union stands ready to support the Libyan people... as they rebuild their country towards a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Libya," it said.

At the AU panel's meeting last week in Pretoria, the group had "committed itself to working with the NTC" but stopped short of formally recognizing it.

The pan-African body has doggedly stuck to its own "roadmap" for the Libyan conflict and criticized the NATO bombing campaign -- even though the rebellion had rejected the AU proposal, insisting on the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power.

But earlier this month, the NTC gave assurances that it would work to meet key AU concerns, promising that they remained committed to the African continent and to building national unity after Gaddafi's ouster, the statement said.

The NTC also promised to protect foreign workers, including black Africans, following allegations that many had been detained on suspicions they had worked as mercenaries for Gaddafi.

"I don't think it's backtracking. At the end of the day more countries are recognizing the transitional council," said Henning Snyman, senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

"President Zuma and the AU came out and said there are certain requirements that they have before they will recognize the NTC. I think the main one was that the NTC must assure them that they would involve everyone in the new government."

Gaddafi was a major financial backer of AU operations, and an advocate for stronger integration on the continent -- with himself at the helm.

He built a massive complex in his hometown of Sirte, which he hoped would become the capital of a United States of Africa, a drive that many nations including South Africa resisted.

"Everyone was a bit shell-shocked," by Gaddafi’s ouster, Snyman said. "If the strongman of Africa can be toppled, who is next? And if the strongman of Africa can be toppled with foreign intervention, who is next?"

Initially the AU's reluctance to deal with the new leadership in Tripoli stemmed from the group's policy against recognizing power grabs by armed groups, said University of Pretoria analyst Laurence Caromba.

"The AU was sticking by its principles not to recognize an unconstitutional change in an African state or a coup," he told AFP.

"But there is a dangerous vacuum at the moment with the previous government which has fallen, and the new one hasn't consolidated, so it was forced to recognize the reality."

* Syria:

His Majesty King Abdullah on Tuesday warned that the Israeli stance on peace talks and the turbulence in Syria pose new risks to the security and stability of the Middle East, according to a Royal Court statement carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

The King, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Monday in New York, expressed concern about the future of the peace process if no efforts succeed in bringing the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table in the coming couple of days, the statement said.

The Monarch, who is currently in New York heading the Jordanian delegation to the 66th session of the UN General Assembly, added that if no progress in the peace process is achieved soon, this will have a negative impact on all.

“If we can’t get the Israelis and Palestinians together in the next couple of days then what signal is that for the future process? In other words, we’re normally back to the drawing board; I think we’re back beyond that and as a result, the end of 2011 to 2012 is very bleak and it has a very negative impact I think on all of us in the region,” the King said.

On the Jordanian-Israeli relationship, the King said: “There is an unhealthy people-to-people relationship today because although the benefit of peace is always peace, the inability of Israel to address the justice of the Palestinian problem has not come down well with the people and we’re just seeing - from the Jordanian street - Israel is being more and more difficult in coming to the table and finding an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.”

The Monarch added that what is seen on the ground is the exact opposite of what Israeli officials announce. “The Israeli leaders still bury their heads in the sand, pretending that there no problem yet there is,” he said.

Responding to a question about the situation in Syria, the King said the government is following up on the developments in the Arab state and their effects on the whole region, according to the statement.

“I discussed with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the challenges facing the region and how can we learn from the lessons…, but the Syrians seemed disinterested,” the King said.

Moreover, the King explained that, in response to public movements demanding reform and more freedom in the region, the Jordanian government embarked on political and constitutional changes aiming ultimately at reaching parliamentary governments.

“We are moving forward, and because we rely on a concise and well-prepared plan, there will be soon a new Jordan and I don’t know if regional countries will be like us,” the King noted, according to the statement.

The King underlined that democracy in Jordan will become “more mature” with the development of partisan life that will incorporate all the Kingdom’s political parties formed on principles of transparency and justice, adding that, when this takes place, the Islamic Brotherhood movement is then required to reconsider its decisions to move towards active engagement in the political life, said the statement.

Meanwhile, His Majesty attended yesterday IBM Centennial “THINK” Forum, where he delivered a speech that focused on the need to empower youth to become leaders, especially in the Middle East.

He said: “In my region, three of four people are under the age of 34. They have vast potential to achieve and to lead. They have also come of age at a time of great challenge. Our countries like others have been hit by the global crises in food, energy and finance. Regional unemployment is at crisis levels. Regional conflict continues to drain resources and attention.”

The King also acquainted his audience at the ICT giant’s ceremony with reforms under way in Jordan, a major part of which is educational reform, through market-oriented skills training.

He also cited the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the primary source of instability in the region and the world.

“The central threat, a source of global division and instability, remains the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I do not need to tell you that today, the situation is at a critical point. The people of the region reject a status quo in which Israel continues to build settlements and defy international law, and Palestinians continue to be sent to the back of the bus to wait for change”.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is losing support among key constituents and risks plunging Syria into sectarian strife by intensifying a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, the U.S. ambassador to Damascus said on Thursday.

Time is against Assad, but the Syrian opposition still needed to agree on the specifics of a transition and the system that could replace Assad if he is ousted, Ambassador Robert Ford told Reuters in a telephone interview from Damascus.

"The government violence is actually creating retaliation and creating even more violence in our analysis, and it is also increasing the risk of sectarian conflict," he said.

Although Ford did not mention either by name, tensions have emerged in Syria between its mostly Sunni population and Assad's Alawite sect, which dominates the army and the security apparatus.

The United States, seeking to convince Assad to scale back an alliance with Iran and backing for militant groups, moved to improve relations with Assad when President Barack Obama took office, sending Ford to Damascus in January to fill a diplomatic vacuum since Washington pulled out its ambassador in 2005.

But ties deteriorated after the uprising broke out and Assad ignored international calls to respond to protester demands that he dismantle the police state and end five decades of autocratic rule.

Washington, which has weighed its strategic interests in the region against a public commitment to support democracy, has responded in different ways to the "Arab Spring" uprisings.

It shows no appetite to repeat the kind of military intervention that was crucial in the ouster of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

Assad's opponents say they, too, do not want foreign military intervention but would welcome "international protection" to prevent the killing of civilians.

Assad has promised reform and has changed some laws, but the opposition said they made no difference, with killings, torture, mass arrests and military raids intensifying in recent weeks.

The 46-year-old president repeatedly has said that outside powers were trying to divide Syria under the guise of wanting democracy because of Damascus's backing for Arab resistance forces.

He said the authorities were justified in using force against what they described as a terrorist threat.

Ford said most of the violence "is coming from the government and its security forces.

"That can either be shooting at peaceful protests or funeral processions or when government forces go into homes. We have had recently a number of deaths in custody, or extra-judicial killings," he said.

The veteran diplomat has infuriated Syria's rulers by cultivating links with the grassroots protest movement. It has been expanding since the uprising demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule erupted in March, when a group of activists, mostly women, demonstrated in the main Marjeh Square in Damascus to demand the release of political prisoners. Security police arrested and beat dozens of them.

Ford was cheered by protesters when he went in July to the city of Hama, which was later stormed by tanks. He also visited a town that has witnessed regular protests in the southern province of Deraa, ignoring a new ban on Western diplomats traveling outside Damascus and its outskirts.

Along with a group of mostly Western ambassadors, Ford paid condolences this month to the family of Ghayath Matar, a 25-year-old protest leader who used to distribute flowers to give to soldiers but was arrested and died of apparent torture.

"We wanted to show Syrians what the international community from Japan to Europe to North America thinks of the example that Ghayath Matar set about peaceful protest," Ford said.

Citing the resilience of more than six months of what he described as overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations, Ford said the street activists could receive a boost from a more effective political opposition.

"The other part of the protest movement is to have a genuine frame for a democratic transition. I think that this is something which different elements of the Syrian opposition are trying to organize.

"It probably has two elements. One element is to have some agreed principles about how a reformed Syrian state would look and how it would operate, and another element would be how would a Syrian transition be arranged," he said.

The Obama administration toughened its position in August, saying Assad should step down and imposing sanctions on the petroleum industry, which is linked to the ruling elite.

Ford said there was economic malaise in Syria, signs of dissent within Assad's Alawite sect and more defections from the army since mid-September, but the military is "still very powerful and very cohesive."

"I don't think that the Syrian government today, September 22, is close to collapse. I think time is against the regime because the economy is going into a more difficult situation, the protest movement is continuing and little by little groups that used to support the government are beginning to change."

Ford cited a statement issued in the restive city of Homs last month by three notable members of the Alawite community which said the Alawites' future is not tied to the Assads remaining in power.

"We did not see developments like that in April or May. I think the longer this continues the more difficult it becomes for the different communities, the different elements of Syrian society that used to support Assad, to continue to support him."

He said Assad could still rely on the military to try and crush the protest movement but the killing of peaceful protesters was losing him support within the ranks.

"The Syrian army is still very powerful and it is still very strong," Ford said. "Its cohesion is not at risk today but there are more reports since mid-September of desertions than we heard in April and May or June. And this is why I am saying time is not on the side of the government."

* Lebanon:

A heated debate has erupted in Lebanon over controversial remarks by the head of the nation's Maronite Christians, who has warned an end to Syria's regime threatens Christians across the Middle East.

During his first visit to France last week, Patriarch Beshara Butros Rai urged that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- once the arch-enemy of Lebanon's Maronites -- be given a chance to implement reforms, saying the "poor man cannot work miracles".

Assad's regime has cracked down on a string of unprecedented protests across his country, killing more than 2,600 civilian protesters since the uprising began in March, according to the United Nations.

Many of Syria's minority Christians, which include Maronites, are concerned that Islamic extremists could rise to power should Assad's regime collapse.

Rai last week echoed that fear, voicing concern of a takeover by the radical Muslim Brotherhood, a movement the Syrian authorities have blacklisted for decades.

"We endured the rule of the Syrian regime. I have not forgotten that," Rai said. "We do not stand by the regime, but we fear the transition that could follow. We must defend the Christian community. We too must resist."

He later clarified his statement by telling local press he feared the fall of "regimes described as dictatorial... could lead to civil war, in which Christians would be the biggest victims".

Lebanon's Christians, a community that once enjoyed unparalleled political leverage, are now split on the protests rocking Syria.

Maronites allied with Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran, are backing Assad and accusing the radical Sunnis of stirring the unrest.

Other Lebanese Christians, allied with pro-Western former premier Saad Hariri, have voiced support for the anti-Assad protests.

Observers are divided on the patriarch's stance, with some lauding it as a shield for Christians and others warning it marks a grave political faux pas.

"It was a big mistake for the patriarch to go to France, which has a history of hundreds of years of support for Maronites, and say the Assad regime must be protected at a time when the Assad regime is breaking down," said political commentator and author Elias al-Zoghbi.

But others argue Rai is doing what is necessary to ensure the survival of his dwindling community.

"The patriarch is not enamored with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, nor is he blind to the atrocities Lebanon suffered as a result of that regime's military presence in Lebanon for 30 years," said analyst and columnist Jean Aziz.

"He is not defending the regime but he fears that unrest in Syria will lead to civil war, which would see the Christians of Syria and Lebanon suffer the same as those of Iraq."

Lebanon was gripped by a deadly civil war from 1975 to 1990, which saw Syria send troops in to its smaller neighbor, where they remained for 29 years.

Ahed al-Hindi, a Washington-based Syrian activist and himself a Christian, openly rejected Rai's explanations as serving to strike fear into the hearts of Christians.

"Syrian Christians are not threatened -- they have long lived side-by-side with Muslims," said Hindi, a participant in the meetings of Syrian dissidents in Turkey. "This is yet another tool of fear the Assad regime has created."

And as Syrian protesters continue to brave the guns of their ruling regime, many are hoping the path will lead to democracy, the only hope for the Christians of the Middle East.

"What we are witnessing today is a transition, which often means the voices of radicals sound loudest," said Aziz. "It's possible that could drown out Christian minorities. "But ultimately, the course of history is headed towards democracy."

* Afghanistan:

The chief negotiator in charge of peace talks in Afghanistan has been assassinated at his home in the capital Kabul in a major blow to the peace process in the war-torn country.

Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani died when a suicide bomber claiming to be a Taliban negotiator detonated explosives hidden in his turban.

The bomb was detonated as the attacker hugged Professor Rabbani - the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council established last year by President Hamid Karzai - in greeting.

The attacker and an accomplice had been invited into Professor Rabbani's Kabul home because it was thought they were emissaries bringing special messages from the Taliban.

Professor Rabbani was in charge of the difficult and dangerous negotiations between the government and its opponents, including the Taliban.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, has condemned the assassination and cut short his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The attack comes only a week after insurgents launched an audacious attack on the US embassy and International Security Assistance Force headquarters in the capital.

Afghanistan correspondent Sally Sara says the attack has raised renewed questions about security in the Afghan capital.

A week ago the insurgents struck a building next to the US embassy and also the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.

They were able to get up high in that building and fire down. This time they’ve struck Rabbani's compound, which is just at the rear of the US embassy.

This is a worrying sign for security forces that the insurgents have yet again been able to get into this district.

Professor Rabbani's death is the most high-profile political assassination in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power.

The High Peace Council has made little clear progress towards peace talks with the Taliban and Professor Rabbani's assassination seems to have dealt a serious blow to its chances of doing so any time soon.

Professor Rabbani's supporters regarded him as a wise scholar, but his critics accused him of human rights abuses.

News of his death reached Karzai at the UN headquarters in New York just before he held talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama.

But Karzai, along with the United States and other countries, insisted the peace process would not be derailed.

"He was among the few people in Afghanistan with the distinction that we cannot easily find in societies. A terrible loss, but as you rightly said this would not deter us from continuing the path that we have," he said.

Obama said the killing was a "senseless act of violence" that would not crush the Afghan drive for freedom while NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen added that those behind the killing "will not prevail."

Kabul criminal investigations chief Mohammad Zaher said two men "negotiating with Rabbani on behalf of the Taliban" arrived at his house, one with explosives hidden in his turban. "He approached Rabbani and detonated his explosives. Professor Rabbani was martyred and four others including Massom Stanikzai (his deputy) were injured."

A member of the High Peace Council, Fazel Karim Aymaq, said the men had come with "special messages" from the Taliban and were "very trusted."

"One of them put his head on the shoulder of Rabbani and detonated the explosives hidden in his turban, martyring Rabbani," he added.

Police said three others including, Stanikzai, were also injured in the attack. Interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddqui said Stanikzai's condition was "better and we hope he will recover."

The Taliban were not immediately reachable for comment, but the insurgency led by its militia has hit Kabul increasingly hard in recent months.

There are 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, mainly from the US and under NATO command, but all combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014.

Professor Rabbani's house where the bomber struck is very close to the US embassy, making it the second attack within a week in Kabul's supposedly secure diplomatic zone.

Last week, 14 people died in a 19-hour siege targeting the embassy.

Security forces are bracing for further insurgent attacks in the capital.

Professor Rabbani, 71, was president of Afghanistan from 1992 until the Taliban took power in 1996 during the country's civil war.

Karzai's brainchild, the High Peace Council was intended to open a dialogue with insurgents who have been trying to bring down his government since the US-led invasion overthrew their regime but has seen little success.

The 68-member council, hand-picked by the president, was inaugurated in October 2010.

Delivering his acceptance speech, Professor Rabbani said he was "confident" that peace was possible, according to a statement from the palace.

"I hope we are able to take major steps in bringing peace and fulfill our duties with tireless effort and help from God," he was quoted as saying.

According to Human Rights Watch, Professor Rabbani was among prominent Afghans implicated in war crimes during the brutal fighting that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the early 1990s.

* Brussels:

The European Union has agreed to impose a new round of sanctions against Syria. The latest measures were designed to put pressure on the Syrian regime as the death toll of pro-democracy protesters continued to rise.

The EU approved a fresh round of sanctions against Syria on Friday in a bid to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a brutal crackdown against anti-regime protesters.

Member states will no longer be allowed to invest in the country’s oil sector and the supply of bank notes made in Europe will also be banned, diplomats in Brussels said. It is the seventh round of sanctions imposed by the European Union.

"In view of the continuing brutal campaign by the Syrian regime against its own population, the European Union today decided to adopt additional sanctions against the Syrian regime," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

"The EU’s restrictive measures are designed to have maximum impact on the Syrian regime, while minimizing any potential negative impacts on the Syrian population," she added.

Two people will also join the list of 54 individuals already facing travel bans and asset freezes due to their involvement in the Syrian crackdown. An additional six companies are to be added to a list of entities with which EU firms cannot do business.

Due to be introduced on Saturday, the sanctions add to an existing EU import ban on Syrian oil enforced in early September.

The latest measures came as reports emerged that at least two civilians had been shot dead by Syrian security forces in separate incidents near the central city of Homs.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights one demonstrator was killed when security forces opened fire on a march in Talbisseh.

Another was shot dead and three more were wounded when they gathered after Friday prayers in the village of Al-Zaafarana.

United Nations estimates suggest that some 2,600 people have been killed.