Syrian security forces opened fire on mourners near a mosque in the flashpoint
city of Deraa after a mass funeral for pro-democracy protesters, two witnesses
said on Saturday.
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The clash came a day after at least 37 people were
killed nationwide, Syrian rights groups said, in the largest and deadliest
rallies since the unrest began three weeks ago.
Security forces used live
ammunition and tear gas on Saturday to disperse thousands of people chanting
freedom slogans after assembling near the old Omari mosque in the old quarter of
the city, near the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights, the witnesses
The Guardian website posted a mobile-phone video shot on Friday in
the Syrian city of Homs showing protesters chanting in support of the people of
Deraa, calling Syrian President Bashar Assad a “coward” and urging him to direct
his soldiers toward the Israeli-held Golan Heights rather than at fellow
Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights said in a
statement that in Deraa, “Syrian security committed what could be called a crime
against humanity. It fired indiscriminately on protesters and killed and wounded
tens of them.”
State television said armed groups had killed 19 policemen
and wounded 75 in the city.
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Residents in the coastal city of Latakia said
security forces used live ammunition on Saturday to disperse hundreds of people,
causing scores of injuries and possible deaths.
Richard Haass, president
of the New York-based Council for Foreign Relations, wrote on Thursday on Time
magazine’s website: “Syria could well be ripe for upheaval. Like Egypt and
Libya, it has been run by a single family, one that lacks the legitimacy of a
bona fide monarchy, for 40 years. And like Bahrain, Syria is ruled by a
minority: its controlling elite (the Alawi sect of Shi’ite Islam) represents
less than 15 percent of the total population of just over 22
But Haass, a former high-level US State Department and National
Security Council official, wrote that Libya-style intervention was out of the
question, as neither the international community nor the Arab states would
support such a move. Nor, Haass wrote, would Israel.
“The two countries
are sworn enemies, and Syria is close to Israel’s deadliest foes: Hezbollah,
Hamas and Iran,” he wrote. “But for all that, the border between the two
countries remains mostly quiet.
While Israelis would welcome a
European-style democracy for a neighbor, they fear Bashar would more likely be
succeeded by radical Islamists. As they say in Tel Aviv, ‘Better the devil you
know than the devil you don’t.’” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton condemned the violence on Saturday, urging Syria to implement substantive
“The Syrian people must be allowed to express their
grievances without fear of intimidation, repression and arrest. Meaningful
political reforms guaranteeing freedom of expression, fundamental rights and the
rule of law must begin now,” she said.
Syria’s National Organization for
Human Rights said 30 people had been killed on Friday in Deraa, the epicenter of
protests, three in the central city of Homs and four in the Damascus suburbs of
Harasta and Douma.
Kurdish activists said rallies were held in Syria’s
northeastern Kurdish region, a day after Assad offered citizenship to an
unspecified number of Kurds.
“The citizenship gesture only helped fuel
the street [protests]. The Kurdish cause is one for democracy, freedom and
cultural identity,” Hassan Kamel, a senior member of the Democratic Kurdish
Party in Syria, told Reuters.
Activists and witnesses said thousands of
mostly young Kurds marched in the northeastern city of Qamishli on Friday
chanting: “No Kurd, no Arab, the Syrian people are one,” and “We salute the
martyrs of Deraa.”
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told ambassadors in
Damascus that “subversive elements infiltrated the protesters and opened fire on
the police and the protesters to drag the country into violence and cause
The Interior Ministry accused “plotters pushed by known foreign
sides” of firing at protesters to create a rift between people and police.
“[They] have infiltrated the ranks of the demonstrators to sow discord between
the citizens and the security forces. There is no more room for leniency or
tolerance in enforcing law...
“We will not allow sabotage... and damage
to national unity,” the ministry said. “Syrian authorities, in order to preserve
the security of the country, citizens and the governmental and services
establishments, will confront these people and those behind them according to
Osman Mirghani, editor-at-large of the pan-Arab daily Asharq
al-Awsat, wrote on Thursday that attributing popular unrest to Israeli
intervention “is an insult to the people and their demands for freedom and
“What Israel fears the most is Washington moving closer to Arab
states in order to support the democratic transformation, and putting pressure
on Tel Aviv to put forward a serious initiative to move the stalled
Palestinian-Israeli peace process,” Mirghani wrote.
“Israel would rather
deal with individuals or despotic regimes, rather than democratic regimes that
respond to the voters’ opinions and public pressure, particularly after it has
seen that the peace agreements that were signed with Egypt and Jordan have
failed to result in complete normalization of relations due to the opposition of
public opinion,” he wrote. “Israel prefers stability and the status quo, because
it has already adapted itself to the peace equation with the existing despotic
regimes, rather than the people of the region.”
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