Syria presses crackdown, moves towards new constitution
NICOSIA - Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for an activist in the oil-rich east on Sunday as they pressed a crackdown on dissent, a human rights group said.
"Syrian security forces in Deir Ezzor fired live bullets at a funeral procession for Ziad al-Obeidi," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in reference to one of its associates on the ground.
"Some 7,000 people took part in the funeral which turned into a demonstration calling for the fall of the regime," the Britain-based watchdog said.
Obeidi, 42, was killed by security forces who were hunting for him in Deir Ezzor. He had gone into hiding in August during military operations in the area.
Meanwhile, security forces carried out raids and arrests in the flashpoint central province of Homs and in the outskirts of Damascus, with 19 people arrested in Dmeir, the Observatory said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday appointed a committee to draft a new constitution within fours months, as activists reported more killings, arrests and gunfire in several cities.
The official SANA news agency said Assad issued a decree establishing a national committee to draft a new constitution in a period "not exceeding four months from the date of its creation."
The 29-member committee, headed by former justice minister Mizhar al-Annbary, includes Qadri Jamil, a communist member of the so-called "internal opposition" movement.
Mohammed Said Bkheitan, a senior official in the ruling Baath party, said in the week that the new document would require a two-thirds approval of the Assad-dominated parliament before being submitted to a referendum.
A new constitution has been a key demand of a protest movement that erupted in March 15 -- initially calling for greater freedoms and later demanding the ouster of the Assad regime.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Friday that more than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in the fierce crackdown on dissent.
But security forces are facing mounting armed resistance and defections, according to activist reports, with clashes between soldiers and defectors leaving 36 dead, including 25 soldiers, on Thursday alone.
Pillay said Syria risked "a full-blown civil war" unless the international community took action.
Arab foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss Syria's crackdown on protests at the request of oil-rich Gulf states, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.