Syria says report of mass grave in Deraa 'untrue'

Witnesses say 13 bodies uncovered in mass burial site; hundreds of Syrian refugees flee to Lebanon escaping violence in border towns.

May 17, 2011 11:25
3 minute read.
Protester throws rock at tank in Deraa, Syria

Tank Syria Deraa 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Syria denied on Tuesday that a mass grave had been found near the southern city of Deraa which the army entered last month to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.

"Reports of a mass grave in Deraa are completely untrue," state television quoted the Interior Ministry as saying, adding they were part of a "campaign of incitement" against Syria.

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Syrian villagers pulled 13 bodies from a mass grave near the southern city of Deraa on Monday, residents said, and thousands joined a night-time march in a Damascus suburb demanding the overthrow of the government.

Deraa residents say hundreds of people have been missing since tanks and soldiers moved in last month to crush the cradle of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

They said villagers digging in farmland in the outskirts of the city uncovered the decomposed bodies of Abdullah Abdul Aziz Aba Zaid, 62, and four of his children.

The villagers also found the bodies of a woman, a child and six men, all unidentified, residents said. It was not clear when they died, but Deraa residents say dozens of civilians were killed during the military assault on the city's old quarter.

Syrian and international rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 700 civilians across the country since the first protests broke out in Deraa on March 18.

The report on the mass grave could not be confirmed independently.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the Damascus suburb of Saqba on Monday night at the funeral of Ahmad Ataya, who died of wounds inflicted when security forces fired at a pro-democracy rally in the capital last month.

A witness said the demonstrators marched at night to avoid the tough security measures that are in force during the day. It was the biggest protest in the Damascus outskirts since a security crackdown three weeks ago.

Authorities have blamed most of the violence during the wave of protests on armed groups backed by Islamists and outside powers, who they say have killed more than 120 members of the security forces.

Witnesses in Deraa said tanks were still positioned at main city junctions and in the outskirts, but authorities had shortened the curfew by three hours, allowing people out on the streets until 5.00 pm.

The official Syrian news agency said Assad met a delegation from Deraa and they discussed the "positive atmosphere there as a result of cooperation between the residents and the army".

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In related news, hundreds of Syrian continued to cross into northern Lebanon on Monday overnight from Syria as Syrian tanks entered a rural area on the Lebanese border to continue the government crackdown on widespread protests against the Assad regime, Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star reported Tuesday.

Tank shelling was reported in the Syrian border town Tal Kalakh late Monday night, only five kilometers from Lebanese border, and sustained gunfire was heard throughout the day. Refugees fleeing the violence were crossing over into Lebanon number at least 300, Human Rights Watch reported.

The Lebanese Army issued a statement on Sunday, Daily Star reported, saying they had stepped up border security in order to prevent illegal entry.

SyrianTroops backed by armour have now deployed in or around towns and villages across the southern Hauran plain, the central province of Homs and areas near the coast. Security forces have also tightened their grip on Damascus and its suburbs.

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