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Middle East
'Nine killed' at Syria funeral processions
Two MPs quit parliament after security forces reportedly open fire on processions for pro-democracy activists.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2011 12:27

Four people have been killed in the Syrian town of Douma, a witness told Al Jazeera, after security forces on the ground and snipers on rooftops opened fire on a crowd of thousands of mourners gathered to bury protesters killed on Friday.

Army and security personnel also shot at mourners at a funeral procession in the southern town of Izraa. Eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera that five people had been killed there, four of them after having been shot in the chest. Several others were wounded.

The eyewitness in Douma said that the gunfire erupted during the processions on Saturday, in the largest of the towns that surround Damascus to the northeast. Eight people were killed and at least 25 injured in Douma when security forces fired upon pro-democracy protesters on Friday.

 

Snipers on Saturday had taken up positions on the top of a Baath Party building in the vicinity of the privately-run Hamdan Hospital, where residents had overnight formed a human shield around the main gate, in order to prevent security forces from arresting those who were injured and being treated inside.

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered across the country on Saturday to attend funeral processions for the more than 75 people who were killed during the deadliest day of protests in the country since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad first began five weeks ago.

In protest of the violence, two Syrian politicians  have resigned from parliament.

Nasser Hariri, from the town of Daraa, told Al Jazeera that he "feels sorry for those who were killed in Haran [today and yesterday] by the bullets of security forces despite the fact that the president has promised no  live ammunition by security forces at all".

"Being an MP I feel the need to step down as I am not able to protect the voters killed by live ammunitions and now I feel better to resign so I'm resigning from the Syrian People's Assembly."

International leaders meanwhile have condemned the Syrian government's response to the protests, with Barack Obama, the US president, terming it "outrageous".

The Syrian government on Saturday rejected Obama's condemnation as not being "objective", state television reported.

Funerals turn into protests 

Thousands of people gathered near the Osman Ibin Afan mosque in Izraa, a southern village that was the scene of some of the worst violence on Friday. At least 15 people were killed there.

During Saturday's funerals, army and security personnel shot at the mourners, killing five people and wounding several others, said an eyewitness present at the funerals.

"I saw four of the dead myself. They had been shot in the chest," he said.

Al Jazeera's correspondent, who we cannot name for security reasons, was just outside Izraa, and confirmed that he had witnessed a funeral procession being fired upon.

"[People marching on an overpass] were met with a hail of gunfire, many people certainly wounded directly in front of us, cars turned around, and I can tell you it was an incredibly chaotic scene, and it seems as though pretty much everyone down here in the southern part of the country is now carrying weapons. It is unclear who was firing at whom, that's part of the confusion ... but clearly a very violent incident now being carried out here in the south of the country," he reported.

"I think it's pretty clear now that the government feels that the eyes of the world are elsewhere, and that this is the best way to deal with what they are calling an armed insurrection ... we saw this yesterday, and clearly we're seeing this again today. The government was clearly anticipating funerals like this, and clearly was anticipating that violence could break out at these funerals, people are obviously very angry because they've had family members who have been killed, and I think the government was anticipating violence, but what I witnessed was a clear, brutal use of force on behalf of the security forces."

On Saturday, Abu Abdullah, an opposition activist, told Al Jazeera that security forces were firing "live bullets" at mourners who were trying to join the funeral processions.

A rights activist told the AFP news agency that more than 150 buses left the town of Deraa, which has from the beginning of the uprising been a focal point for pro-democracy protests, bound for the funeral procession in Izraa.

The activist said that the funerals in Izraa were expected "to become a huge rally against the regime".

Prayers were also held in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzah for three of those killed during Friday's protests, activists said.

A funeral was also due to be held on Saturday in the Damascus neighbourhood of Midan for a person killed there during the protests.

Members of that procession chanted "the people demand the overthrow of the regime", a slogan that has been a common thread in popular protests against authoritarian governments in the region.

Protesters also chanted: "Bashar al-Assad, you traitor. Long live Syria, down with Bashar."

Deadliest day

At least 75 people are reported to have been killed on Friday, as security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to quell anti-government protests across the country, according to Amnesty International, the London-based rights group.

Map of April 22 'Great Friday' protests across Syria

Syrian activists sent Al Jazeera a list naming 103 people from across the country who they said had been killed by security forces during the "Great Friday" protests.

SANA, the official news agency, said that 10 people had died in clashes between protesters and passers-by, and that security forces had only used tear gas and water cannons. It reported that several police and firefighting personnel were injured during the clashes.

Rights groups and pro-democracy activists dispute the claim that security forces did not intervene with live rounds and rubber bullets against pro-democracy activists.

Fifteen of the protester's deaths took place in Izraa, near the flashpoint southern town of Daraa, according to the list released by activists, while another 21 were reported to have occured in Homs.

Deaths were also reported in Douma and Zamalka, near Damascus (see this video posted from an unknown source from Zamalka).

Other places where protesters were killed include Homs, Syria's third largest city, Moadamia and Daraa.

Demonstrators marching in peace were surprised by security forces' live ammunition, according to Hazem, a protester who spoke to Al Jazeera via phone from a Damascus suburb.

"Demonstrators were going with olive branches, it was peaceful" until they were "surprised by live ammunition from some security forces in one of the flats of the street", Hazem said.

The protesters took to the streets to mark what activists dubbed "Great Friday" - the biggest demonstrations against Assad's government to date.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reported from Damascus, which until now had been relatively calm, that the level of tension in the city on Friday marked a new point in the uprising.

"This day is turning into a very bloody day, probably the bloodiest since the protests started," she said.

Click here for more of Al Jazeera's special coverage

A heavy security presence prevented protests from taking off in Damascus.

"Obviously the government want[s] to make a point, the capital is a red line and they will not allow the protests to reach the capital," she said.

Several witnesses, including medical professionals, told Al Jazeera that many of the injured were either being refused access to hospitals or were too scared to seek treatment.

A spokesperson for the ministry of information told Al Jazeera on Friday that security forces would fire on protesters only if they were fired upon first.

Violence in Homs

Speaking under condition of anonymity, a witness in Homs described how about 200 protesters, moving ahead of a 3,000-strong group, came under fire as they marched down Cairo Street, close to the Clock Square that has been the city's focus for protests.

"Suddenly the security opened fire on us randomly," the activist told Al Jazeera by phone.

One of those killed in the city by government officers was a 25-year-old protester named Mohammed Bassam al-Kahil, he said.

Meanwhile, another witness in Hasakah, in Syria's mainly Kurdish northeast, told Al Jazeera that demonstrators gathering at a mosque after prayers were attacked by pro-government protesters.

Syrian activists co-ordinating the protests against al-Assad's rule have demanded the abolition of his Baath Party's monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system.

In the first joint statement since protests erupted five weeks ago, the Local Co-ordination Committees, representing provinces across Syria, said "freedom and dignity slogans cannot be achieved except through peaceful democratic change".

"All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law," the joint statement said.

More than 220 protesters have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted on March 18 in Daraa, rights campaigners say.

A decree Assad signed on Thursday that lifted emergency law is seen by the opposition as little more than symbolic, since other laws still give entrenched security forces wide powers. 

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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