Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad injured at least three protesters on Friday when they fired at hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators who had gathered at a mosque in a Damascus district where a major security headquarters is located, a witness said.

The witness, who lives in the area, told Reuters by phone that Pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabbiha, and secret police agents hit the protesters with automatic rifle fire after they defied the heavy security presence and refused to leave the Abdel Karim al-Rifai mosque in Kfar Souseh neighbourhood.

I saw three people on the ground and I do not know if they are dead or alive. The protesters were first hit with water cannons, and when they refused to leave they fired at them, said the witness, an engineer who did not want to be further identified.

The mosque was surrounded by shabbiha and 'amn' (security police). Snipers were also on the rooftops of the buildings surrounding it, even residential private property, he added.

Syria bars most independent journalists from the country, making first-hand reporting impossible. There was no immediate comment from the authorities.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)