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DAMASCUS - Regime forces fired on protesters who took to the streets of Aleppo on Friday, wounding several people at the biggest rally seen in Syria's second city since a revolt erupted last year, a watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said demonstrators also suffered gunshot wounds in Douma, a key protest hub near Damascus, but did not provide any casualty figures.
"Thousands of people demonstrated in various districts (of Aleppo) despite the repression," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"These are the most important events in Aleppo since the beginning of the revolt," he told AFP in Beirut.
The government said its forces foiled a suicide bomb attack in Aleppo last Friday, a day after twin bombings in Damascus killed 55 people and wounded nearly 400. It has repeatedly blamed such attacks on "terrorists".
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he believes Al-Qaeda committed the Damascus attack.
"Very alarmingly and surprisingly, a few days ago, there was a huge serious massive terrorist attack. I believe that there must be Al-Qaeda behind it. This has created again very serious problems," Ban said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the United States and Russia, has already pointed to an Al-Qaeda presence in the country since the revolt against his regime began.
The Observatory said at least seven died in violence across the country on Friday, including two children and a woman killed by regime forces.
Besides Aleppo, protests demanding the ouster of Assad also took place in Damascus, the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, northeastern Hasaka, Homs in central Syria, and northwestern Idlib, said the Britain-based Observatory.
The Observatory said tens of thousands of people rallied across the country, in the biggest demonstrations since an April 12 ceasefire which has been violated on a daily basis.
"We want freedom, whether you like it or not, Bashar, enemy of humanity," protesters chanted in Deir Ezzor.
The rallies came after a call by activists for Syria-wide protests under the rallying cry, "heroes of Aleppo University", in solidarity with students in the northern city who demonstrated there the day before despite brutal repression.
On Thursday, the students were met with brutal repression by security forces, despite the presence of UN military observers, who now number more than 250 across the country out of the total of 300.
One protester was killed in a separate demonstration Thursday night in the Aleppo neighborhood of Salaheddin, according to the Observatory, while an officer was killed in a bomb explosion in the city on Friday.
On May 3, security forces killed four students in a night time raid on their dormitories at Aleppo University, bringing Syria's second largest city into the forefront of its deadly unrest.
Violence persisted elsewhere, with regime forces renewing their bombardment of Rastan in central Homs province on Friday, according to the Observatory -- only a day after a blistering assault on the rebel stronghold.
Heavy gunfire and shelling was reported in several neighborhoods of Homs city, said the watchdog.
In Damascus province, heavy gunfire was reported near the town of Harasta, while the army suffered casualties in an attack on a military checkpoint at the town of Dariya.
Artillery attacks on towns have declined since the UN observer mission began deploying in mid-April, but the death toll is still high.
With the violence unabated, UN Arab League envoy Kofi Annan plans to return to Damascus "soon" to further efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, his spokesman said on Friday, without saying when.
'Give dialogue a chance'
The head of the UN observers' mission, Major General Robert Mood, told reporters in Damascus his mission "will reach full operational capabilities in record time."
Nearly 260 military observers out of a planned 300 were now in Syria.
"No volume of observers can achieve a progressive drop and a permanent end to the violence if the commitment to give dialogue a chance is not genuine from all internal and external factors," Mood acknowledged.
"We are very committed to the Syrian people, innocent women and children, to return back to normality," he told reporters in Damascus. "But we must be given a real chance to do that from the fighting parties and their supporters."
In an apparent first, Syrian authorities have sentenced to death for "treason" an activist who was arrested in April and "brutally tortured," the Syrian League of the Defense of Human Rights said on Friday.