At least two mourners have been killed after Syrian security forces opened fired at thousands attending the funeral of anti-regime protesters. Dozens of activists were slain on Friday in a brutal government crackdown.
US sanctions now target Syrian President Assad
Syrian security forces killed at least two people and injured dozens of others on Saturday after opening fire on a crowd of mourners attending the funeral of anti-government regime protesters.
A human rights activist said security forces fired at tens of thousands of people in the central city of Homs who were gathered at the funeral of eight protesters who were slain on Friday.
"Tens of thousands had accompanied the funeral procession from the city's main mosque to Tal al-Nasr cemetery," the activist told news agency, AFP.
"The shooting began as people were coming out of the cemetery," the activist, who wanted to remain anonymous, added.
Rough estimates suggest that at least 44 people were killed during nationwide protests on Friday, making it one of the deadliest days since an uprising began against President Bashar Assad's regime two months ago.
Syrian security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to break up the anti-government demonstrations throughout the politically volatile country.
Around 13 people were reportedly killed in the central city of Homs, including a child. At least 13 were killed in the city of Maarat al-Numan, located in the northwestern province of Idlib.
"The victims in Maaret al-Numan were gunned down at the entrance of the city where many people were converging from other nearby towns to join the protests," an activist told the news agency AFP.
Another six people were killed in the towns of Daraya and Barza on the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, while four people died in the cities of Latakia, Hama and Deir al-Zour. In the town of Sanamein, located near the opposition hotbed Daraa, two people were killed.
Terrorist gangs blamed
State television blamed the deaths on "armed terrorist gangs" who allegedly opened fire on security forces and civilians. The government-run broadcaster went on to say that the violence demonstrates why the Syrian army has had to intervene.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the political unrest in Syria on Islamists and foreign agitators.
Many Syrians are fleeing the violence and crossing the border into Lebanon
According to the UN and human rights groups, more than 850 people have died in Syria since protests erupted on March 15. The UN refugee agency has also reported that 1,400 Syrians fled the violence for Lebanon last week. An estimated total of 5,000 refugees have sought safety in Lebanese towns on the border with Syria.
"Most of the people who have crossed the border in recent weeks are women and children. In addition to their immediate need for food, shelter and medical help, they also need psycho-social support," Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, said in Geneva.
Washington steps up pressure
The deaths across Syria come after US President Barack Obama stepped pressure on the regime in Damascus.
During a keynote address Thursday on Washington's policy toward the so-called "Arab Spring," President Obama condemned the use of violence and called on Syrian President Assad to recognize protesters' demands for political reform.
"President Assad now has a choice," Obama said. "He can lead that transition or get out of the way."
On Wednesday, Obama signed an executive order that sharpened sanctions against Syria by adding Assad to the list of officials subject to travel bans and asset freezes.
Damascus condemned Obama's policy, saying it "clearly shows US interference in Syria's internal affairs."
"Obama is inciting violence when he says that Assad and his regime will face challenges from the inside and will be isolated on the outside if he fails to adopt democratic reforms," Syria's official news agency SANA said.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Spencer Kimball (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Andreas Ilmer