Six killed as Syrians bury protest dead

A government crackdown in the country has left at least 535 civilians dead.

Updated: May 01, 2011, 00:26 AM IST

Damascus: Troops and snipers killed six civilians on Saturday as Syrians buried scores of people killed in a "day of rage”, while the United States and EU imposed sanctions on Damascus.

As the death toll from seven weeks of anti-regime protests rises, activists vowed to keep the pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, promising a new week of pro-democracy protests.

Meanwhile, Syrian Army troops backed by tanks and helicopters took a prominent mosque that had been controlled by residents in a besieged southern city.

Daraa resident Abdullah Abazeid said the assault on the Omari mosque, lasted 90 minutes, during which troops fired tank shells and heavy machine guns. Three helicopters took part in the operation, dropping paratroopers onto the mosque itself, he said.

And 138 more members of Assad`s ruling Baath Party quit in protest at the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, according to collective resignation lists received in Nicosia.

At least 66 people were killed on Friday when tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Syria, activists said, while authorities said nine members of the security forces were shot dead by "terrorist groups”.

The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force of the protests which erupted on March 15, said the blood of those "will not have been spilled in vain" and announced a schedule of protests for the week beginning Sunday.

"The martyrs are eternal, but the criminals will end up in the dustbins of history after being judged and punished by the people," the group said on its Facebook page. "Freedom is inexorably coming."

Funerals for Friday`s "martyrs" would be held at 4:30 pm (1330 GMT) across Syria, it said.

The activists said countrywide protests from Sunday would kick off a "week of breaking the siege" -- a reference to Daraa and the Damascus suburb of Douma which the military have controlled since Monday.

Demonstrations would take place on Sunday in the southern protest hub town of Daraa and around Damascus on Monday.

Rallies are planned on Tuesday in the northern towns of Banias and Jableh, Wednesday in Homs, Talbisseh and in Tall Kalakh on the border with Lebanon, and nationwide night vigils on Thursday.

On Saturday, six more civilians were killed when the Army began pounding Daraa at dawn while snipers opened fire from rooftops on anyone venturing on the streets, activists said.

"There are six dead" in Daraa, an activist said, quoting witnesses in the town. The town is besieged. Food, water and medicine are running out," an activist said quoting witnesses in the town.

Water and power have been cut in Daraa as the situation worsened after between 3,000 and 5,000 troops backed by tanks stormed the town on Monday.

"The town is a military zone and the situation is tragic, but our morale is high," Daraa activist Abdullah Abazid said on Saturday.

The military said five soldiers were killed and two captured by "armed terrorists" in the Daraa region of southern Syria, while three soldiers were killed when gunmen tried to cut off the highway linking Homs to Hama.

A policeman in Daraa was also among the dead, the military said, adding that dozens of assailants were killed and wounded and 156 arrested.

Four soldiers were buried on Saturday, the military said.

On Friday, activists said that security forces opened fire as "thousands of people" from neighbouring towns tried to "bring aid and food" to the city.

Friday`s "day of rage" also rocked the coastal city of Banias and the majority Kurdish city of Qamishli, and neighbouring towns.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from Friday`s violence rose Saturday to 66, most of them killed in Daraa.

At least 582 have been killed by security forces firing live rounds and tear gas since protests erupted, said the Committee of the Martyrs of the 15 March Revolution, which has been keeping a tally of the dead.

Also on Saturday, 50 women protested outside Parliament in Damascus calling for an end to the sieges in Daraa and Douma, a rights activist said in Nicosia.

Security forces rounded up at least 11 female protesters and forced on a bus to an unknown destination.

Washington and the European Union meanwhile turned the heat on Damascus by slapping it with new sanctions.

The United States blocked the assets of Assad`s brother, Maher, who commands Syria`s feared Fourth Armoured Division, and of several other top officials and its intelligence services.

"The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government`s continued use of violence and intimidation against the Syrian people," the White House said.

EU ambassadors met on Friday to prepare to slap an embargo on the sale of weapons and equipment that might be used for internal repression and decided to put the brakes on trade deals with Syria.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc will also "urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures with the aim of achieving an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership."

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed a US call for an investigative mission on the bloodshed as it voted in favour of a resolution condemning the crackdown.

Russia, a traditional Syria ally which opposed the Geneva vote on Friday, slammed the West`s "double standards and bias" as the foreign ministry warned anew against foreign interference in Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey braced for an influx of refugee from neighbouring Syria after allowing 252 to enter the country as the Turkish Red Crescent sent aid to the border region, official media reported.

Bureau Report