Mourners 'shot dead' at Syria funeral

Rights group say five civilians killed as security forces open fire at funeral and raid homes.

    Anti-government protests continue across Syria despite the authorities' bloody response [AFP]

    Syrian security forces have killed five civilians during house searches and funerals held for anti-government protesters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. 

    Two of the victims were killed in Kiswah, a suburb of Damascus, during funerals which turned into protests against President Bashar al-Assad, the London-based rights group said on Saturday.

    Thousands of people marched in a funeral procession for some of the six demonstrators that activists said had been killed in the area on Friday.

    The Observatory said three civilians were also killed on Saturday during house-to-house raids in the Barzeh district of Damascus and in the town of Quseir, close to the Lebanon border.

    "These regions have been seeing growing protests and the regime is using force to prevent them from spreading," Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the group, told Reuters.

    Abdel Rahman said troops had pushed towards the Lebanese border on Sunday and that gunfire had been heard in Quseir overnight.

    Hundreds of Syrians have crossed the border into Lebanon in recent days, and the Syrian military has recently launched operations in the towns of al-Najia and Khirbet al-Joz.

    The pro-government al-Watan newspaper reports that the military sweep was aimed at "tracking down armed groups" who the government has consistently blamed for the uprising.

    Major-General Riad Haddad, Syria's military spokesman, said on Sunday that 350 soldiers and police personnel have been killed since the unrest began. He was earlier quoted by CNN as saying that 1,300 security forces personnel had been killed, but he later told the Associated Press that this was actually the number of wounded.

    According to the Syrian Observatory, 1,342 civilians have been killed in the government's crackdown and 342 security force personnel have also died.

    'Gross rights violations'

    Opposition activists said 20 people were killed and many more injured when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country following Friday prayers.

    Al Jazeera is unable to verify reports from Syria because of restrictions on reporting in the country.

    The crackdown on protests has so far failed to silence the uprising that has now lasted more than 100 days.

    Salil Shetty, chief of rights group Amnesty International, on Saturday urged Arab states to act to help end the violence in Syria.

    "I urged the League of Arab states to take far stronger action on the gross human rights violations taking place in Syria," Shetty said after meeting outgoing Arab League chief Amr Moussa in Egypt.

    "In contrast to their vocal stance on Libya and support for international action, Arab countries have stayed largely muted on Syria."

    On Sunday, meanwhile, the Iranian government accused the European Union of conducting a "baseless" campaign against it, after three commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had sanctions imposed on them, with the EU alleging that they were providing support to the Syrian government in supressing protests.

    "The baseless EU claims in connecting events in Syria to the Revolutionary Guards reveal the bloc's efforts to create a campaign against the Islamic republic and to distort reality," Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

    Opposition meeting

    A prominent Syrian opposition figure, meanwhile, said about 200 regime critics and intellectuals will meet in Damascus on Monday to discuss strategies for a peaceful transition to democracy.

    The one-day gathering, to be held at the Sheraton hotel in the heart of Damascus, will be the first such meeting inside Syria. Many of the participants have been jailed for years for opposing the government.

    Dissident Louay Hussein said Syrian authorities had not objected to the meeting. It will come one week after Assad, in a nationally televised speech, spoke of convening his own national dialogue to discuss political reforms.

    However, the meeting is not part of the national dialogue the president proposed.

    The opposition has made it clear that they will not take part in any talks until the crackdown on protests end.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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