The Muslim Brotherhood has called on Syrians to take to the streets in condemnation of a crackdown on protesters by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
In its call, the Muslim Brotherhood urged immediate help for the besieged city of Deraa, where a rights group said civilian deaths from a tank-backed army attack rose to more than 130 on Friday.
It was the first time that the Brotherhood, which had been ruthlessly crushed along with several leftist movements under the rule of late President Hafez al-Assad in February 1982, had called directly for protests in Syria since pro-democracy demonstrations against his son, Bashar, erupted six weeks ago.
A declaration by the Brotherhood, sent to Reuters by its leadership in exile on Thursday, said: "Do not let the regime besiege your compatriots. Chant with one voice for freedom and dignity. Do not allow the tyrant to enslave you. God is great."
The protests have attracted a cross section of Syrian society, which has been under Baath Party rule for the last 48 years. President Assad, 46, kept intact the autocratic political system he inherited in 2000 after his father’s death while the family expanded its control over Syria’s struggling economy.
The Brotherhood said accusations by the authorities that militant Islamists were behind the unrest were aimed at fomenting civil war and undermining nationwide demands for political freedoms and an end to corruption.
But Friday, the Muslim day of rest and prayers, was an opportunity for protesters to gather, challenging repeated warnings by the authorities not to demonstrate.
By Friday evening, according to doctors and rights activists, more than 83 bodies of protesters had been brought to Deraa mortuaries.
Last week, Security forces shot dead at least 120 protesters, said Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah, in the biggest demonstrations Syria has seen since the democratic uprising erupted in Deraa on March 18, with pro-democracy protests spreading to regions across the rest of Syria.
Three days later, the Fourth Mechanized Division, under the control of President Assad’s brother, Maher stormed Deraa, echoing their father’s 1982 attack on the city of Hama to crush a revolt led by the Muslim Brotherhood, killing anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people.
Mr. Assad tightened the security grip in and around Damascus on Thursday, with various security forces and secret police units deploying in the nearby towns, Erbin and Tel; in the Damascus district of Barzeh; and the suburbs of Douma and Daraya, rights activists and witnesses said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Deraa has killed scores of civilians, with essential supplies in the city running low.
Rights groups said that the Syrian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests has led to at least 453 civilian deaths, and possibly more.
Ambassadors of European Union governments to Brussels met on Friday to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Syria, which could include asset freezes and travel restrictions on key officials.
Other EU measures against Syria could include freezing financial aid, which amounts to 43 million euros ($64 million) a year. The United States has already announced such restrictions on the Assad family, and President Barack Obama confirmed sanctions on Assad relatives and on Syria’s powerful intelligence service.
Rights activists hoped that Friday’s action by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemning Syrian atrocities and calling for a UN investigation would be a blow to Syria’s candidacy for membership of the body from 2012 to 2014.
Damascus said in its bid submitted in New York on March 1 that its candidacy "signifies its commitment to respect and to support the inalienable and indivisible nature of all human rights."
The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on new Council members in May.