Syrian forces open fire on crowds in Damascus

Assad troops use live fire on funerals in Syrian capital; attacks continue on opposition strongholds of Homs, Hama.

By REUTERS
February 18, 2012 22:40
2 minute read.
Syrian tank in a Damascus suburb [file]

Syrian tank in a Damascus suburb 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)

 
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AMMAN/BEIRUT - Syrian security forces fired on a huge protest against President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Saturday, soon after a Chinese envoy had appealed for a halt to 11 months of violence, opposition activists said.

The shooting took place at the funerals of three youths killed on Friday in an anti-Assad protest that was one of the biggest in the capital since a nationwide uprising started.

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"They started firing at the crowd right after the burial," said a witness, speaking to Reuters in Amman by telephone.

People tried to flee and seek shelter in alleyways, he said.

The opposition Syrian Revolution Coordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head. A shopkeeper told Reuters many protesters were arrested.

Up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the capital's Mezze district, near the headquarters of Airforce Intelligence and that of the ruling Baath Party, witnesses said.

Footage of the funeral broadcast on the Internet showed women ululating to honor the victims. Mourners shouted: "We sacrifice our blood, our soul for you martyrs. One, one, one, the Syrian people are one."

YouTube footage from another Damascus suburb, Douma, showed several thousand protesters at the funerals of two people said to have been killed there by security forces. The bodies were carried though a sea of mourners waving pro-Baath Syrian flags.

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Assad described the turmoil racking Syria as a ploy to split the country.

In other strife across the country, government forces bombarded the opposition stronghold of Homs on Saturday.

A blanket of snow covered Homs, strategically sited on the road between Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, as rockets and artillery pounded mainly Sunni Muslim rebel districts.

The troops were close to Baba Amro, a southern neighborhood that has been target of the heaviest barrages since the offensive began two weeks ago, activists said.

"There is no electricity and communications between districts are cut, so we are unable to get a death toll. There is no fuel in most of the city," activist Mohammad al-Homsi said from Homs.

The military has also opened a new offensive in Hama, a city with a bloody history of resistance to Assad's late father Hafez, who died in 2000 after 30 years in power.

Assad, who belongs the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.

The uprising began with civilian protests in March, but now includes a parallel armed struggle led by the loosely organized Free Syria Army, made up of army deserters and local insurgents.

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