Middle East
Syria denies 'mass grave' claims
Villagers say they have found 13 bodies buried on farmland near Deraa - but government says claim is "totally false".
Last Modified: 17 May 2011 10:15



Syria's interior ministry has denied the existence of a mass grave discovered near Deraa, the southern city targeted by security forces in a crackdown on anti-government protests, according to the state-run SANA news agency.

The denial on Tuesday came a day after residents said villagers had found 13 bodies while digging on farmland.

"This information is totally false," an interior ministry official told SANA, adding that the reports were part of a "campaign of incitement" against Syria.

Deraa residents say hundreds of people have been missing since tanks and soldiers moved in last month to crush opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

They said villagers digging in farmland in the outskirts of the city uncovered the decomposed bodies of Abdullah Abdul Aziz Aba Zaid, 62, and four of his children.

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The villagers also found the bodies of a woman, a child and six men, all unidentified, residents said on Monday.

It was not clear when they died, but Deraa residents said dozens of civilians were killed during the military assault on the city's old quarter.

"[The residents] discovered a mass grave in the old part of town but authorities immediately cordoned off the area to prevent residents from recovering the bodies, some of which they promised would be handed over later," a rights activist told the AFP news agency by phone on Monday.

Accounts of the mass grave could not be independently verified as Syrian authorities have all but sealed off the country to foreign journalists.

Syrian and international rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 700 civilians, including women and children, across the country since the protests broke out in Deraa on March 18.

Thousands march

In another development in Deraa and in other cities across Syria, thousands of protesters have begun demonstrating at night in order to avoid tough security measures that are in force during the day.

"Tel Kelakh is a ghost town. There are no doctors. Pharmacies are shut. Snipers are on the roof of the main
hospital. Phones, water and electricity are cut"

Mohammad al-Dandashi,
local resident

On Monday night, thousands of demonstrators marched through the Damascus suburb of Saqba at the funeral of Ahmad Ataya, who died of wounds inflicted when security forces fired at a pro-democracy rally in the capital last month.

It was the biggest protest in the Damascus outskirts since a security crackdown three weeks ago.

Authorities have blamed most of the violence during the wave of protests on armed groups backed by outside powers, who they say have killed more than 120 members of the security forces.

Witnesses in Deraa said tanks were still positioned at main city junctions and in the outskirts, but authorities had shortened the curfew by three hours, allowing people out on the streets until 5:00pm (1400 GMT).

The official Syrian news agency said Assad had met a delegation from Deraa and that they had discussed the "positive atmosphere there as a result of co-operation between the residents and the army".

Tanks deployed

Further north, at least 15 tanks deployed around Arida, near the border town of Tel Kelakh, which troops entered on Saturday after protests erupted against Assad, Their arrival prompted dozens of families to flee into neighbouring Lebanon.

An activists' protest group said at least seven civilians were killed in Tel Kelakh on Sunday when troops shelled the town and sniper fire killed one civilian on Monday, raising the death toll in the army's assault since Saturday to 12.

 

The Syrian state news agency said five soldiers were killed in confrontations with armed groups in Tel Kalakh.

One resident reported intermittent shelling of Tel Kelakh and bursts of machine gun fire on Monday, but the army appeared not to have advanced beyond the outskirts.

"Tel Kelakh is a ghost town. There are no doctors. Pharmacies are shut. Snipers are on the roof of the main
hospital. Phones, water and electricity are cut," Mohammad al-Dandashi told the Reuters news agency from the town by satellite phone.

A few families from Hilat, another border village, streamed into Lebanon on Monday, as did two wounded civilians from Tel Kelakh who were seeking medical care, family members said.

Lebanon sends reinforcements

For the past two months Syrian soldiers and police have been trying to quell demonstrations across the country calling for Assad's overthrow.

They have tended to crackdown on a flashpoint area for several days, using tank and rifle fire and mass arrests to subdue it, and then move on to another area.

Troops backed by armour have now deployed in or around towns and villages across the southern Hauran plain, the central province of Homs and areas near the coast. Security forces have also tightened their grip on Damascus and its suburbs.

The Lebanese army said it had sent reinforcements to the border, set up checkpoints and started intensive patrols to prevent "infiltration activities on both sides".

Source:
Agencies
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