Thousands held in Syria security swoop

More than 3,000 reportedly detained in Rastan as MP says opposition move to topple President Assad will not succeed.

    Members of opposition groups buried their differences and formed a united front in Istanbul on Sunday [Reuters]

    Syrian troops going house to house have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in a rebellious town that government forces recently retook in some of the worst fighting since the country's uprising began six months ago, an activist has said.

    He said the detainees were being held at a cement factory, as well as some schools and the Sports Club, a massive four-storey compound, in Rastan.

    "Ten of my relatives have been detained," said the activist, who asked that he be identified by his first name, Hassan. He said was he speaking from hiding. 

    "The situation in the town is miserable," he said, adding that the town of some 70,000 people was heavily bombed for five days starting Tuesday when the army launched an offensive.

    Syria's state-media said troops took control of Rastan after hunting down "armed terrorists" holed up inside. 

    Funeral

    Also on Monday, a funeral procession was held for the 21-year-old son of Syria's top Sunni Muslim cleric who was killed a day earlier in an ambush in a restive northern area.

    The cleric, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, who is considered a close supporter of President Bashar al-Assad's government, told hundreds of people attending the funeral at a mosque in the northern city of Aleppo that the country's opposition should stop working against Syria from abroad.

    "Come and say whatever you want here and if anyone rejects I will be with you in the opposition," said Hassoun, his voice shaking, in an apparent reference to steps taken by Assad to allow the formation of political parties and promises of free elections.

    "You want freedom, you want justice then come here and build it with us in Syria," he said.

    Hassoun, who has echoed Syria's regime claims that the unrest in the country is the result of a foreign conspiracy, blamed fatwas or religious edicts by clerics living abroad for the death of his son. He did not name the clerics or say where they were based. 

    Meanwhile, a member of Syria's parliament dismissed a broad-based national council set up by the opposition, saying it will not be able to overthrow Assad.

    Khaled Abboud told the Associated Press that those who announced the formation of the council in the Turkish city of Istanbul were "deluding themselves".

    Syrian dissidents met in Istanbul on Sunday and formally established a national council designed to overthrow Assad's government, which they accused of pushing the country to the brink of civil war. The council appeared to be the most serious step yet to unify a deeply fragmented dissident movement. 

    Abboud dismissed the opposition move, saying: "It's a dream that will never come true."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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