Syrian man dies of wounds sustained in anti-Assad protest in Sweida: Source

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A Syrian man died of gunshot wounds sustained in a protest against President Bashar al-Assad in the southern flashpoint province of Sweida on Wednesday, a medical source and two local monitors said.

It was the first fatality reported that was linked to the demonstrations about economic conditions that swept across Druze-majority Sweida last year and quickly spiraled into rallies against al-Assad.

Suwayda 24, a local news website, reported that a 52-year-old man succumbed to gunshot wounds after security forces guarding a government building shot at nearby protesters.

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Two local medical sources confirmed the fatality.

Suwayda 24 said the spiritual head of the Druze sect Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri met with protesters on Wednesday and said the man was a “martyr.”

Local armed Druze fighters using firearms and grenades later attacked several security branches, an army barrack and the ruling Baath party offices inside the city of Sweida, said Ryan Marouf, the editor of Suwayda 24.

“These vigilante groups were reacting to the firing earlier in the day by security forces at peaceful demonstrators that left one dead,” Marouf added.

It was not clear if there were any casualties. A security source said the authorities were responding to the attacks with restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control.

There was no official announcement on Syrian state media.

Last August, steep gasoline prices sparked mass protests across Sweida, a province that had largely been spared the violence that has ravaged the rest of Syria since 2011, when al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrations against him sparked a full-blown war.

The demonstrators swiftly turned their criticism to al-Assad and demanded sweeping political changes. Across the province, scores of local branches of the ruling Baath party were forced shut by protesters tearing down posters of the president and his father, a rare show of defiance in areas under government rule.

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