3 dead in Syria clashes as burials draw 100,000
DAMASCUS - Security forces on Saturday killed three demonstrators in northwestern Syria, after more than 100,000 mourners turned out in Hama for the funerals of protesters, rights groups said.
In Jisrash Shughur, "security forces opened fire to scatter more than 1,000 demonstrators protesting after the funeral of a civilian killed on Friday" in protests at the nearby village of Has in northwestern Idlib province, an activist said on condition of anonymity.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman said more than 100,000 people attended the funerals of at least 53 people killed during anti-regime protests on Friday, all but five of them in Hama.
The London-based Observatory said security forces on Friday shot into a crowd of more than 50,000 people gathered for the central city of Hama's biggest rally since protests erupted in mid-March.
In Homs, a city 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Hama, two people were killed on Friday and another two were killed in nearby Rastan, Abdel Rahman said. One person was also killed as security forces opened fire in Idlib.
Residents of Hama said security forces stayed away from the funerals.
One resident said Internet access was still cut off in Hama on Saturday, as users elsewhere said online services had been restored after a cut of more than 24 hours.
Washington on Saturday expressed concern at the Internet shutdown, warning the embattled regime that trying to silence protesters "cannot prevent the transition currently taking place."
"We are deeply concerned by reports that Internet service has been shut down across much of Syria, as have some mobile communication networks," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"We condemn any effort to suppress the Syrian people's exercise of their rights to free expression, assembly, and association."
Syria's official press said 20 people were killed on Friday, including police, security agents and civilians "by shots fired by armed groups."
In Hama, police killed three "saboteurs" as they set a government building alight, state television said, adding that 80 security force members were injured.
State television said on Friday that armed groups, taking advantage of a crowd of "nearly 10,000" in Hama, opened fire on civilians and the security forces.
In 1982, the city was the scene of a brutal crackdown that left around 20,000 people dead when the Muslim Brotherhood rose up against the late Hafez al-Assad, father of current President Bashar al-Assad.
Amid mounting pressure internationally, Britain condemned Friday's killings.
"The Syrian government has shown an abhorrent disregard for human life as ordinary Syrians took to the streets in memory of the innocent children who have died during the unrest," Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said.
Activists had called the protests over the dozens of children killed in anti-government protests including 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whom activists say was tortured to death, a charge the authorities deny.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday expressed alarm at the heightened crackdown.
Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested since protests began.
The Observatory's Abdel Rahman said 60 people were detained on Friday during a demonstration in Banias.
But among hundreds released since Assad announced an amnesty on Tuesday, opposition figure and writer Ali Abdullah, 61, walked free on Saturday, the Observatory said.
It said also released were lawyer Muhannad al-Hasni, who heads an unlicensed rights group, and opposition figure Meshaal al-Tamo, leader of a banned Kurdish party.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, some 700 Syrians and Lebanese demonstrated in a Shiite suburb of Beirut in support of Assad, an AFP reporter said.
In Brussels, around 200 activists gathered at a hotel for a two-day conference which organiser Bassem Hatahet said was intended to send Assad the message that "if he is really a leader, he should stop his crimes, and that if his forces continue to imprison and torture protesters, there must be a regime change."
Damascus insists that the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.