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Funeral Held for Top Syrian Cleric

People and officials attend funeral prayers for a senior pro-Syrian government Muslim cleric Mohammed al-Buti and his grandson Ahmad al-Buti, killed in a mosque explosion on Thursday, at Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, March 23, 2013.
A large crowd of Syrians turned out amid tight security Saturday for the funeral of slain Sunni cleric Mohammed al-Bouti, who died in what Syrian authorities say was a suicide-bombing in Damascus Thursday night.

Clerics, relatives and associates of the slain Sunni Muslim cleric Mohammed al-Bouti mourned his passing, chanting as they carried his white-draped coffin into Damascus' venerable Omeyyad Mosque, where he had preached for many years.

Syria's top pro-government Sunni religious figures sat in the front of the mosque, surrounding the coffins of al-Bouti and his grandson. Mufti Ahmad Badreddin al-Hassoun wiped away tears, as Religious Affairs Minister Mohammed Abdul Sattar al-Sayyed stared at the ground.

Mufti of Damascus Abdel Fattah al-Bezzem called al-Bouti a “martyr of the nation” and a "symbol of truth" for all Syrians.

He said that al-Bouti urged Syrians in his last sermon to return to God and make peace with him, admitting their mistakes... because their nation needs them to apologize and admit their wrong-doing.

Prominent Hezbollah official Mohammed Yazbeck eulogized the slain cleric, noting that he had come in the name of the Lebanese Shi'ite group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Yazbeck insisted that al-Bouti died in what he called "a battle against the enemies of humanity."

He said that U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech Friday, called Israel the strongest power in the region and among the strongest in the world. He urged Muslims to not let the U.S. or Israel be stronger than the spirit of al-Bouti, whom he says died for Islam and Palestine.

Obama called the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group a terrorist organization in a speech Friday, alluding to its alleged participation in an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last summer.

Iran's Shi'ite cleric, Mohammed Ali Taskiry, also participated in the funeral ceremony, calling al-Bouti a "man of moderate views." He claimed that al-Bouti was killed to “prevent the light of his truth from shining.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed Friday to avenge the death of the 84-year-old Sunni cleric, by ridding the country of Islamic extremists he claims killed al-Bouti. Mohammed al-Bouti was a long-time supporter of the Syrian president and his late father.