Syria: Thousands call for revolt at funeral of protester

In boldest challenge to Assad yet, over 10,000 rally in southern city after at least four demonstrators killed.

Syria Protest 311 (photo credit: Youtube)
Syria Protest 311
(photo credit: Youtube)
Thousands of Syrian mourners cried out for “revolution” Saturday at the funeral of protesters killed by security forces, in the boldest challenge to Syria’s rulers since uprisings began sweeping the Arab world.
Security forces responded by firing tear gas to disperse crowds in Deraa, a region south of the capital where at least 10,000 people demonstrated on Saturday at the funeral of two protesters, among at least four who were killed on Friday.
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“Revolution, revolution. Rise up Hauran,” chanted the mourners in Deraa, administrative capital of the Hauran plateau, as they marched behind the simple wooden coffins of Wissam Ayyash and Mahmoud al-Jawabra.
“God, Syria, Freedom. Whoever kills his own people is a traitor,” they said.
Some of the mourners left a mosque and headed for the center to protest.
The two were killed when security forces opened fire on Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption in Syria, which has been ruled under emergency laws by President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party for nearly half a century.
A third man killed on Friday, Ayhem al-Hariri, was buried in a village near Deraa earlier on Saturday. A fourth protester, Adnan Akrad, died on Saturday from his wounds.
On Friday, the White House criticized the attacks and urged the Syrian government to allow people to demonstrate freely. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called on Damascus to refrain from violence.
“The United States strongly condemns the violence that has taken place in Syria today and calls on the Syrian government to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully,” White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “Those responsible for today’s violence must be held accountable.
“The United States stands for a set of universal rights, including the freedom of expression and assembly, and believes that governments, including the Syrian government, must address the legitimate aspirations of their people,” Vietor added.
Ban, in a statement through a spokeswoman, said using lethal force and making arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators was unacceptable.
“The secretary-general urges the Syrian authorities to refrain from violence and to abide by their international commitments regarding human rights,” the statement said.
In Deraa, the atmosphere was less tense by late afternoon, with security forces reducing force after a meeting at the main Omari mosque between the authorities and prominent figures in the city.
An activist who was at the meeting said officials were presented with a list of demands, most importantly for the release of political prisoners. Among them were 15 schoolchildren arrested in Deraa this month after writing slogans on walls, inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia that swept their autocratic leaders from power.
The list demands the dismantling of secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, a public trial for those responsible for the killings and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property.
“If they do not respond, the protests will only escalate,” the activist told Reuters.
An official statement said the interior ministry had formed a committee to investigate the “regrettable events” in Deraa.
The city is home to thousands of displaced people from eastern Syria, where up to a million people have left their homes because of a water crisis over the past six years. Experts say state mismanagement of resources has worsened the crisis.
The Hauran region, once a breadbasket, has also been affected by diminishing water levels, with yields falling by a quarter in Deraa last year.
Protests against Syria’s ruling elite, inspired by revolts in the Arab world, gathered momentum this week after a silent protest in Damascus by 150 people demanding the release of thousands of political prisoners.
At least one activist from Deraa, Diana al-Jawabra, took part in the protest. She was arrested on charges of weakening national morale, along with 32 other protesters, a lawyer said.
Jawabra, who is from a prominent tribe, was campaigning for the release of the 15 schoolchildren from her home city. Residents say the children’s arrests deepened feelings of repression and helped fuel the protests in Deraa.
Assad said in a January interview that Syria’s leadership was “very closely linked to the beliefs of the people,” and there was no mass discontent.
“The leadership have given a clear signal that they are not in any hurry to embark on fundamental political reform,” said a diplomat in the Syrian capital.