Syrian Security Forces Fire on Mourners in Several Towns

Syrian Security Forces Fire on Mourners in Several Towns

(Photo: anjci / Flickr)

Beirut, Lebanon – Syrian security forces fired their weapons into crowds of mourners in at least three towns on Saturday, as tens of thousands of Syrians buried protesters killed a day earlier in the worst bloodshed since the Syrian uprising began last month. Human rights activists and witnesses said at least six people were killed on Saturday.

The new violence came as the death toll from Friday, one of the bloodiest days in the so-called Arab Spring, reached 104 people, a number that activists said was likely to rise even higher as more bodies were returned to their families.

The bloodshed Saturday followed a pattern seen frequently in the tumult that has swept the Arab world. Deaths have begotten funerals, where more people were killed by security forces bent on crushing dissent against authoritarian leaders. While the toll paled before Friday’s count, it suggested thatSyria might be entering a prolonged period of turmoil, as protesters mount the greatest challenge to four decades of rule by President Bashar al-Assadand his father, Hafez.

Mr. Assad’s government has struggled to cope with the unrest, offering concessions while wielding violence against those who persist in demonstrations. Even though the revolt has drawn large numbers into the streets since it started on March 15, it has yet to achieve the critical mass of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, though organizers believe the bloodshed may draw more and more into the uprising’s fold.

In a possible sign of cracks in the government’s facade, two members of Syria’s largely powerless Parliament resigned on Saturday. Khalil al-Rifai and Nasser al-Hariri, independent lawmakers from Dara’a, where the uprising started, told Al Jazeera that they were resigning in protest of the killing of demonstrators.

Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a human rights group, said that security forces fired at mourners after they buried their dead. The funerals soon became protests, replete with calls for the fall of Mr. Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000. Such demands, uttered publicly, were once unheard of and served as a marker of the degree to which fear has crumbled in the repressive state.

Mr. Tarif said two people were killed in the town of Douma and three in Barza, both on the outskirts of Damascus, where some of the worst bloodshed was reported Friday. One person was killed in Azra, a town in southwestern Syria.

In Barza, a witness said at least 1,000 mourners came under fire as they prepared to bury four men and two children, 7 and 14. The witness, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal, said security forces aimed directly at the mourners, many of whom sought shelter in the nearby Salam mosque.

He said the shooting lasted for at least 10 minutes. Religious figures inside the mosque pleaded on loudspeakers for security forces to stop firing at unarmed protesters and called for medical assistance for the wounded.

“They shot directly at people, and all hell broke lose,” the witness said. “We could hear voices of children and people screaming frantically. We don’t know how many were killed, but we heard one saying on the phone that four of his neighbors were killed and many were injured.”

Across Syria, where clashes erupted in more than a dozen towns, residents braced for more violence, as the government signaled its determination to crush the protests.

“People are in a state of panic,” said Abu Ahmad al-Dimashki, an activist in Homs. “Today is going to be a big day, and we don’t know what the reaction of the security forces will be, but almost all of us expect another brutal crackdown, which will complicate things.”

Mr. Dimashki said Homs, Syria’s third largest city, remained completely shut for the sixth day. Last Tuesday, security forces and police in plain clothes attacked protesters trying to stage an Egypt-style sit-in in a city square.

Friday’s violence started after the Muslim noon prayers, when scores of Syrians gathered in protests. Their demands have grown since the uprising began in March — from calls for reform to demands that Mr. Assad step down. In moments laden with symbolism, protesters tore down Mr. Assad’s picture and wrecked statues of his father, who seized power in 1970.

The article “Syrian Security Forces Fire on Mourners in Several Towns” originally appeared in The New York Times.