Syrians took to the streets of Homs on Friday despite an opposition warning of a "massacre" by thousands of regime forces and militias who encircled the protest hub for a final assault to crush dissent.
And local rights groups reported later that forces killed at least six people, including two children, when they fired randomly on protesters in Homs, one of many areas where people rallied after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
Pro-democracy activists had called on citizens to take to the streets across the troubled country in support of a "dignity strike... which will lead to the sudden death of this tyrant regime."
Ahead of the demonstrations, the opposition Syrian National Council warned of a bloody final assault on Homs using the pretext of what the regime had called a "terrorist" attack on an oil pipeline.
"The regime (is) paving the way to commit a massacre in order to extinguish the revolution in Homs," said the SNC, a principle umbrella group drawing together Assad's opponents.
Homs, an important central junction city of 1.6 million residents mainly divided along confessional lines, is a tinderbox of sectarian tensions that the SNC said the regime was trying to exploit.
Witnesses on the ground in Homs, besieged for months, had reported a buildup of troops and pro-regime "Shabiha" militiamen in armoured vehicles said the group.