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Middle East
Thousands join Syria blast victims' funeral
Pro-Assad Syrians come out in large numbers in Damascus as the Arab League observers prepare to disclose findings.
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2012 19:33

Thousands of pro-government Syrians have joined a funeral in the capital, Damascus, for policemen killed in a suspected suicide bombing, as the Arab League observers prepare to disclose their findings on Sunday.

Coffins covered in Syrian flags were brought into the Al-Hassan mosque for the prayers on Saturday, a day after the explosion ripped through a Damascus intersection, that government claimed killed 26 people.

State TV quoting government officials said the attack was a suicide bombing that occurred two weeks after another attack claimed 44 lives in the Syrian capital.

The bombings have coincided with a mission by Arab League observers investigating Syria's crackdown on the protest. The Arab monitors visited Friday's blast site in al-Maidan neighbourhood of Damascus.

A government supporter told the observers "Syria is the last Arab castle - have your job done and go away. We swear to God you are not welcome any more".

The Arab mission will issue its first findings on Sunday at a meeting in Cairo and its chief Lt General Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi is scheduled to leave Syria on Saturday on his way to Egypt to give his report.

In Cairo, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli said al-Dabi will brief the League committee with photographs, maps and comprehensive information on what they witnessed.

Bin Helli told reporters the mission should be given the chance to prove itself and get support from new observers and equipment.

Independent investigation

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has said the attack was a handiwork of "terrorists".

But the country's opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian government of being behind the bombing to tarnish the 10-month-old uprising against Assad.

The interior ministry, which is in charge of police and security forces, has vowed to use an "iron fist" against security threats.

Meanwhile, activists in Syria say that at least 32 people were killed by government security forces following protests on Friday.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said Syrian troops fired upon scores of protesters who have been camped out in the central square of the northern town of Saraqeb for eight days.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 20 were wounded.

Both groups also reported attacks by troops on Saturday on another sit-in in the restive central city of Homs, during which at least one person was killed.

Military defections

In another development on Saturday, a senior military officer in the Syrian city of Hama defected along with up to 50 of his soldiers, in protest against the government’s ten-month crackdown on peaceful demonstrations that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.

Colonel Afeef Mahmoud Suleiman, who is from the air force logistics division, announced his defection live on Al Jazeera's Arabic news channel on Saturday.

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Suleiman said he and his men had taken on a new mission to keep protesters in Hama safe during demonstrations.

"We are from the army and we have defected because the government is killing civilian protesters. The Syrian army attacked Hama with heavy weapons, air raids and heavy fire from tanks," Suleiman said.

Meanwhile, President Assad held talks with the leader of Turkey's Islamist-based Felicity Party, Mustafa Kamalak on
Saturday.

Syrian state television said Kamalak "voiced the Turkish peoples support for the Syrian people and confrontation of the conspiracy hatched against them."

In November Ankara announced a set of economic sanctions it said would target the Syrian government in an
attempt to persuade it to stop a bloody crackdown on a popular uprising now into its tenth month.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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