Syria's Interior Ministry says the unrest in the country now amounts to an "armed insurrection," and says the activities of groups causing the unrest will not be tolerated.
The Interior Ministry statement was issued April 18 as thousands of anti-government protesters were reported to have occupied the center of Syria's third largest city, Homs, demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Reuters news agency quotes activists and witnesses in Homs as saying security forces fired shots and tear gas at protesters in Clock Square after a member of the security forces asked the demonstrators to leave.
There was no confirmation of the report.
Activists earlier said up to 12 people were reported killed in clashes with security forces in Homs on Sunday.
In its statement, the Interior Ministry called the unrest "an armed insurrection by armed groups belonging to Salafist organizations, especially in the cities of Homs and Banias."
Salafism is described as a strict form of Sunni Islam which many Arab-led governments equate with militant groups like Al-Qaeda.
The Interior Ministry statement accused such groups of killing soldiers, policemen and civilians, and attacking public and private property, and warned that what it called "their terrorist activities will not be tolerated."
The statement vowed that Syrian authorities "will act with determination to impose security and stability in the country."
In another development, a U.S. newspaper has reported that the United States has been secretly financing the Syrian opposition.
"The Washington Post" reported that the U.S. State Department had funneled about $6 million to Syrian opposition circles since 2006, much of which was used to run the London-based satellite channel Barada TV.
Barada TV began broadcasting in April 2009 but recently expanded its operations to cover the mass protests against President Bashar al-Assad that erupted last month in Syria.
Citing previously undisclosed diplomatic cables provided by WikiLeaks, "The Washington Post" said the first funds for the Syrian opposition were transferred under President George W. Bush after the United States froze its ties with Damascus in 2005.
The money reportedly continued to flow under current President Barack Obama despite his administration's efforts to repair ties with Assad.
According to the newspaper, it is unclear whether the United States now still funds Syrian opposition groups. The article cites a diplomatic cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time warning that Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change."
In reaction to the report, the U.S. State Department denied that it has been attempting to undermine Assad's government, but acknowledged it supported civil society groups dedicated to democratic reforms and freedom of expression.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States is "working with a variety of civil society actors in Syria with the goal of strengthening freedom of expression."
compiled from agency reports