AFP – 13 hrs ago
Syrian security forces fired on a huge crowd gathered for the funerals Saturday of demonstrators killed in rare protests in the capital after a senior Chinese envoy issued a plea for the bloodshed to end.
Following Damascus talks with President Bashar al-Assad, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all sides in Syria to stop the violence and for planned elections, which have been denounced by the opposition, to go ahead peacefully, state media said.
The Damascus funerals were for four people, two of them teenagers, who were killed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the capital’s west central Mazzeh district, which houses many government offices and embassies, a human rights group and activists said.
“The forces of 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 AFP on 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.
Activists described Friday’s demonstrations in Damascus as “unprecedented,” saying there were 49 in all, and called for a “day of defiance” in the capital on Sunday to galvanise support.
“It’s the first time that the protests have spread to well-to-do neighbourhoods,” said Moaz Shami of the LCC.
In a message to Damascus residents on their “Syrian Revolution 2011″ Facebook page, activists said: “The blood of the martyrs exhorts you to disobedience.”
Security forces also kept up their pounding of the flashpoint central city of Homs as the Chinese envoy visited.
Rockets crashed into strongholds of resistance at the rate of four a minute on Friday, according to one activist, who warned that the city — Syria’s third largest — faces a humanitarian crisis.
Thirteen of the 30 people killed on Friday were in the Homs district of Baba Amr, the Syrian Observatory said.
After his talks with Assad, Zhai, whose government has twice joined Moscow in blocking UN Security Council condemnation of the Damascus regime’s deadly crackdown, said it was vital that “calm be restored as quickly as possibly,” state television reported.
“The position of China is to call on the government, the opposition and the rebels to halt acts of violence immediately,” the Chinese envoy said.
“We hope that the referendum on a new constitution as well as the forthcoming parliamentary elections pass off calmly,” he added.
“China supports the reforms under way in Syria and the significant measures taken by the country in this field.”
Assad for his part said the events in Syria were “aimed at dividing the country and delivering a blow to its geopolitical position and historical role in the region,” the official SANA news agency reported.
He said he was determined to “advance the political reform process according to a precise plan and timetable.”
On Thursday, Syrian opposition groups rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule, and urged voters to boycott a February 26 referendum on the charter.
One of them, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, told AFP “it is impossible for us to take part in this referendum before a stop to the violence and killings” which rights groups say has killed more than 6,000 people since March last year.
Zhai’s meeting with Assad followed talks with his counterpart, Faisal Meqdad, late on Friday after which he said the international community must respect Syria’s sovereignty.
“The sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected by all sides and by the international community,” SANA quoted him as saying.
On Thursday, before heading to Damascus, Zhai said Beijing opposed armed intervention and forced “regime change” in Syria.
China and Russia have faced a barrage of criticism for blocking action by the UN Security Council, including from Arab nations with which Beijing normally has good ties.
“China condemns all acts of violence against innocent civilians” and “does not approve of armed intervention or forcing so-called ‘regime change,’” Zhai was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
- Syrians plan to protest, hold joint funeral near al-Assad’s palace (news.blogs.cnn.com)
- Syria: China sends envoy to Damascus – Thursday 16 February (guardian.co.uk)
- China Sends Senior Diplomat to Syria in Bid to End Violence (ibtimes.com)
- Deaths mount in Syria as General Assembly meets – CNN (edition.cnn.com)
- Syria conflict: After focusing on Homs for weeks, Assad government attacks rebel strongholds in Deraa (news.nationalpost.com)
- China envoy to seek ‘peaceful’ resolution in Syria (foxnews.com)
- UN assembly condemns Syria slaughter – ABC Online (abc.net.au)
- The Syrian Expatriates Organization (SEO) Rejects the Assad Regime’s Call for a Constitutional Referendum (prweb.com)
- Outrage as Russia, China veto Syria move at UN (lookatvietnam.com)
- UN sees possible crimes against humanity in Syria (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Pro-Assad Imam shot dead in Damascus (rt.com)
- Under Extreme Pressure, Assad’s Opponents Remain Defiant and Funny (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)