Saturday, April 23, 2011
Syria unrest continues
Secret police raided homes near Damascus overnight, rights campaigners said , as popular opposition to President Bashar al Assad mounted following the bloodiest attacks on pro-democracy protesters.
Security operatives in plain clothes wielding assault rifles broke into homes in the suburb of Harasta just after midnight on Sunday, arresting activists in the area, known as the Ghouta, or the old garden district of the capital.
Security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad killed at least 112 people in the last two days when they fired at protests demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption on Friday and on mass funerals for victims a day later.
Two Syrian legislators resigned their posts in parliament as outrage grows over the security force's ongoing crackdown on anti-government protests.
Nasser al-Hariri and Khalil al-Rifaei, independent MPs who represent the city of Daraa, where scores of protesters have been killed, both separately told Al Jazeera on Saturday that they were resigning over the killings of demonstrators.
"I feel sorry for those who were killed in Houran today and yesterday by the bullets of security forces, despite the fact that the president has promised no live ammunition by security forces at all," al-Hariri said.
He was referring to the deaths of protesters a day earlier, as well as the deaths of mourners killed on Saturday when security forces opened fire at a funeral procession.
"Being an MP I feel the need to step down, as long as I am unable to protect the voters killed by live ammunition and so I feel better to resign," he said.
Al-Rifaei said: "I convey my condolence to the people of Houran and the Syrian people. The Syrian people and the people of Houran voted for me to be a member of parliament and now I can't protect them anymore."
Rezq Abdulrahman Abazeid, the government-appointed mufti for Daraa, which has been a focal point for pro-democracy protests, also resigned on Saturday in protest at the killing of demonstrators by security forces.
At least 15 people were reported killed on Saturday and more than 220 protesters have been killed since protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, erupted on March 18 in Daraa, rights campaigners say.
Nasser Weddady, an outreach director at the American Islamic Conference, which promotes civil liberties in the Middle East, said that the resignations on Al Jazeera were a "slap in the face" to al-Assad's government.
"Right now the only option left for Bashar al-Assad is to deploy the armed forces because clearly the multiple intelligence services are unable to hold the people at bay," he said.
"The moment of truth, the day or reckoning, will come when Bashar al-Assad is forced to deploy the military to the cities to quell the protest ... that's when we'll understand how significant these cracks will be if the conscripts and the soldiers start refusing orders or even joining the protesters."
Security forces continued to crack down on tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday, mainly at funerals for demonstrators killed in previous violence, with 120 people thought to have been killed in the last 48 hours.
Map of April 22 'Great Friday' protests across Syria
At least four people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma, a witness told Al Jazeera, after security forces on the ground and snipers on rooftops opened fire on a crowd of mourners.
Eyewitness in Douma on Saturday said that the gunfire erupted during the funeral processions, a day after eight people were killed and at least 25 injured in an attack on protesters.
Snipers took up positions on the top of a Baath Party building near the privately-run Hamdan Hospital, where residents had overnight formed a human shield around the main gate, in order to prevent security forces from arresting those who were injured and being treated inside.
Elsewhere, at least three people were killed in the neighbourhood of Barza at a mass funeral of pro-democracy protesters killed a day earlier.
"We have been receiving many calls from people in different places in Syria. Probably the most dramatic are the ones from the neighbourhood of Barza," Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Damascus, said.
"Today, during the funerals, people say the security forces shot at them again ... there is a state of panic.
"They say there are gunmen on the streets and they are randomly shooting at people."
Also on Saturday, Daniel Saud, the head of the rights group the Committees for the Defence of Democracy, Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria, was arrested, according to Khalil Maatouk, his lawyer.
"Security services arrested rights activist Daniel Saud today at his home in Baniyas and took him to an undisclosed location," Maatouk was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
'Long live Syria'
Outside of the capital, six people are thought to have been killed as security forces opened fire on people seeking to join mass funerals in the southern village of Izraa, where witnesses said at least 12 funerals were taking place.
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Mourners there were heard chanting: "Bashar al-Assad, you traitor! Long live Syria, down with Bashar!"
A special correspondent for Al Jazeera, reporting from just outside Izraa and who cannot be named for security reasons, confirmed that he had witnessed a funeral procession being fired upon.
"[People marching on an overpass] were met with a hail of gunfire, many people certainly wounded directly in front of us, cars turned around, and I can tell you it was an incredibly chaotic scene, and it seems as though pretty much everyone down here in the southern part of the country is now carrying weapons," he said.
"It is unclear who was firing at whom, that's part of the confusion ... but clearly a very violent incident now being carried out here in the south of the country."
Syrian state television has reported that the security forces are responding to clashes between the protesters and supporters of the government.
State media says that most of the killings have been the result of these clashes.
World powers have called on Syria to end the violence, with Barack Obama, the US president, telling Syria its crackdown on protesters "must come to an end now".
"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said.
"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies."
Syria responded angrily to Obama's comments, saying they lacked objectivity.
"Syria regrets the statement released by the American president on the subject of the situation in Syria, because it is not based on an objective vision of the reality on the ground," an unidentified official was quoted by the state-run SANA news agency as saying.
The latest security crackdowns follow widespread demonstrations on Friday that have been termed the "Great Friday" protests. The day was also the bloodiest so far.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said that at least 75 people were killed in the government's crackdown on Friday.
Syrian activists sent Al Jazeera a list naming 103 people from across the country who they said had been killed by security forces on Friday.
Al-Assad appeared to make some concession to the protesters on Thursday, signing a decree that lifted Syria's emergency law, but the move is seen by the opposition as little more than symbolic, since other laws still give entrenched security forces wide powers.