Syrian civilians killed at funerals

Syrian human rights groups report more than a dozen people were killed while attending funerals of protesters.

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DAMASCUS // Civilians taking part in funeral marches were shot yesterday, Syrian human rights monitors said, in a repeat of a violent but familiar cycle of Friday protests and bloodshed leading to more demonstrations and deaths in following days.

At least 12 civilians were killed by Syrian security forces yesterday, according to Syrian human rights groups, as a mixture of anti-government marches, sit-ins and funerals were staged across the country.

Two MPs and a senior Muslim cleric resigned their positions yesterday to protest continued bloodshed involving mainly civilians.

On Friday more than 70 protesters were killed by security units, human rights monitors said, in the bloodiest single day since demonstrations began five weeks ago.

Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights, one of the groups trying to keep track of casualties, announced updated figures, saying 112 people had been killed on Friday alone. It said at least 124 had died on Friday and yesterday combined.

Three mourners were killed by security forces in the Barzeh neighbourhood of Damascus yesterday, human rights campaigners said. Demonstrations there on the previous day resulted in the deaths of three civilians, all shot by security forces, according to witnesses.

There were also at least six more deaths yesterday near Izra, in southern Syria, when people trying to join funeral processions for 12 civilians gunned down there on Friday were also shot, witnesses said.

In Douma, a suburb north of Damascus, residents reported a funeral march coming under fire from snipers stationed on nearby rooftops, with as many as five people killed.

Activists and civil rights groups blame government security forces or pro-regime gunmen for the deaths. Syrian officials have repeatedly blamed Islamic militants and a foreign-backed conspiracy for the fatalities, insisting that orders have been given not to use live ammunition against unarmed protesters.

The Syrian government also accuses human rights groups, foreign governments and international media of deliberately exaggerating death tolls.

State-run media issued their own numbers yesterday, saying nine people were killed on Friday - including members of the security forces and militants - with another 40 wounded. No mention was made of any civilian casualties.

Sana, the official news agency, also reported on the funerals of two police officers yesterday - one killed in Homs and the other in Maadamiya on Friday.

Security remained tight yesterday with some areas of Damascus sealed off and a heavy military presence reported in southern Syria, near Deraa, and in other flashpoint areas including Homs and the coastal region around Latakia and Banias.

In the capital, heavily armed infantry units in full combat gear closed the roads into Daraya, a southern Damascus suburb, with checkpoints stopping and searching cars, witnesses said.

"The army cut the road, they had machine gun placements set up and plainclothes security were looking at everyone's laptop computers and telling people to leave the area," said one witness.

He said the army was behaving respectfully towards people and that a soldier had told him illegal weapons had been found nearby.

Also yesterday, two Syrian MPs and a cleric, all from Deraa - the epicentre of anti-government demonstrations - announced their resignations from their official positions.

Khalil al Rifai and Nasser al Hariri, deputies in the Syrian parliament, said they were stepping down in protest at the continued bloodshed. The men said they could not in good conscience remain MPs because they were unable to protect the people who elected them.

Mr al Rifai, the first MP to quit over the violence, called on the president, Bashar al Assad, to intervene and halt the killings. "Security solutions do not work," Mr al Rifai told the Al Jazeera news channel.

Soon after, Deraa's most senior Islamic cleric, Mufti Rizq Abdulrahman Abazeid, announced his resignation on Al Jazeera. "The authorities must respond to all the demands of the people," he said.

After yesterday's killings the stage is now set today for more protests - and possibly more shootings - as another round of funerals takes place. Analysts warn the situation is spiralling further out of control with each passing week.

Demonstrations had, until recently, been largely confined to Fridays but are now becoming regular, if not daily, events.

While some demonstrations are violently suppressed by security units, human rights groups said others were allowed to take place in peace, an inconsistency that appeared to reflect local circumstances and local security commanders' sensibilities.

For example, in the city of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, small but growing protests have been left alone, with local security units preferring to take a soft approach, according to residents.

In response to intensifying protests, Mr al Assad has pushed through a number of political reforms, including scrapping emergency laws that had been in place for almost five decades.

Officials say legitimate demands are being met and, therefore, that demonstrations need not take place.

Such measures have, however, failed to satisfy protesters, who say they count for nothing while thousands of political prisoners remain in jail and security units continue to behave with impunity.

Demonstrations remain locally organised and do not have a clearly defined manifesto or national leadership. Still, there are growing signs that the opposition wants nothing less than Syria's autocratic system of one-party governance to be swept away.