Syrian forces fire on funeral crowds


Syrian forces have opened fire with live ammunition to break up a protest in the capital Damascus, killing one and wounding at least four people, witnesses say.

The shooting broke out at the funeral of three youths killed in earlier protests against Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad on Friday.

A grab from YouTube said to show a demonstration in Damascus on Thursday. Syrian security forces opened fire on Saturday on a huge crowd gathered for the funerals of demonstrators killed in rare protests in the capital, an activist spokesman in Damascus province told AFP.

“They started firing at the crowd right after burial,” said a witness, a resident of the capital’s Mezze district, speaking to agency reporters by telephone.

“People are running and trying to take cover in the alleyways.”

Witnesses say up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets for the funeral of the youths, who were killed in one of the largest protests against Mr Assad in the capital since the start of an uprising 11 months ago.

“The forces of al-Assad are shooting on those taking part in the funerals and firing tear gas to disperse them,” Mohammad Chami, of the Local Coordination Committees which organise protests on the ground, said when contacted by Skype.

He said it was “sustained gunfire.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were casualties among the “thousands” attending the funerals, without specifying their number or severity.

The Britain-based watchdog said four people, two of them teenagers, were killed when security forces opened fire on Friday’s “unprecedented” demonstrations in Damascus.

“It’s the first time that the protests have spread to well-to-do neighbourhoods,” said Moaz Shami of the LCC, adding that a total of 49 were counted in the capital on Friday.

Before Friday’s demonstrations, Damascus had been relatively untouched by the massive protests sweeping some provincial cities and more used to loyalist demonstrations organised by the authorities.

The reports of violence at the funerals come as Syrian state television says China has backed Mr Assad’s plans for resolving the crisis in his country.

China’s vice foreign minister Zhai Jun has been visiting Damascus and reportedly spoke in support of the president’s plan for a referendum leading to parliamentary elections.

“We hope that the referendum on the constitution and the parliamentary elections take place in a continuous way,” Mr Zhai said.

“China supports the path of reform taking place in Syria and the important steps that have been taken in this respect.”

The Syrian report quoted him as saying: “The Chinese experience shows a nation cannot develop without stability.”

Reports of torture

Meanwhile, the human rights group Amnesty International says it has obtained new evidence of torture being used by Syrian forces against opponents of the government.

Amnesty researcher Neil Sammonds says Syrians at a camp in Jordan reported being subjected to beatings, stress positions and other extreme punishments.

Mr Sammonds says he spoke to a man at the camp about his treatment.

“He said that having been subjected to all those things, that after being forced to pray to a picture of Bashar al-Assad and having refused to do so, he was then taken away and had a piece of dynamite strapped to his left hand which was then exploded, so he’s lost half his hand,” he said.

“And I was there with him, I’ve seen it.”

Mr Sammonds says many more Syrians have also been subjected to other forms of mistreatment.

“Almost everyone will get terribly beaten for very long periods of time, repeatedly, probably for the first weeks that they’ve arrived, with cables and sticks and truncheons and all the rest of it,” he said.

“Then… they’re hung up on hooks or over doors and very badly beaten again, left there for days or even works.”