The United States on Thursday issued a new condemnation of Syria’s “brutal repression” of demonstrations and killings of civilians and also hit out at the arrest of rights activists.

“The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

“We reject the use of violence under any circumstances. We are also deeply troubled by the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists and others.

“Those responsible for the violence must be held accountable. The United States stands for a set of universal rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and believes that governments must be responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people.

“We call on the Syrian government to exercise restraint and respect the rights of its people and call on all citizens to exercise their rights peacefully.”

Syria, the latest Middle Eastern country to witness an uprising against a long-running autocratic regime, has been hit by unprecedented protests demanding major change after almost five decades of rule by the Alawite-controlled Baath party.

The demonstrations began this month in Damascus but have been largely contained in the capital.

They broke out in force instead in Daraa, where activists reported more than 100 people killed on Wednesday alone in clashes with security forces.