Casualties, including at least 12 people dead, are being reported in at several Syrian cities Saturday as witnesses say government security forces opened fire on thousands of funeral goers. The bloodshed comes as U.S. President Barack Obama condemns the use of force against peaceful protesters and accuses Iran of helping in the repression.
Funeral goers in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh carry victims of Friday’s violent clashes between security forces and protesters on their shoulders, as the crowd chants slogans against the regime. Videos on Facebook show hundreds of mourners in a tumultuous procession.
Al Jazeera TV showed videos of mourners in Barzeh fleeing as shots were fired near them. It also reported that security forces fired indiscriminately on mourners near Izraa, outside the southern city of Diraa, as their procession crossed a highway overpass.
Syrian state media, meanwhile, is claiming that "Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are lying about events in the country." The Syrian news agency SANA insists that "outside forces" are waging a "misleading media campaign" and exaggerating about the size of protests. Opposition protesters, for their part, carried banners calling the government press "liars."
Some mourners on Saturday chanted anti-government slogans and repeated their calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign immediately.
Syrian state TV is reporting that "armed men" fired on the army and security forces in Diraa and elsewhere. It showed funerals of policemen and soldiers it claimed were killed by protesters. The Syrian-government reports accused outside agents of carrying petrol bombs and bottles of blood to "create fictitious stories of violence." According to the reports, the agents also set fire to buses and attacked fire engines.
Two members of parliament from Diraa resigned to protest the government violence. The mufti of Diraa told al Jazeera TV that the shootings were "unacceptable" and announced he was resigning his post, as well.
Fahd al Masri, a Syria expert based in Paris, says that security forces fired on protesters both on Friday and on Saturday.
He said people were killed Saturday in the cities of Diraa, Homs and a Damascus suburb. He adds that many people were killed and injured and thousands were arrested by state security forces on Friday. He notes that the government’s announcement it was lifting martial law appears to have changed nothing and that security forces continue to fire on people.
Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in the U.S. western state of California and Director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He told VOA that he thinks it was inevitable that the wave of Arab revolutions finally hit Syria.
"This revolution was bound to come to Syria. It was just that it would come to Syria. It was proper to come to Syria. Syria could not be spared. The revolution was bound to come to Syria, because it was in Syria where the terrorist state, the way we know it in the Arab world, basically took shape in the '70s. So, everything about this revolution perfectly fits Syria," he said.
Ajami points out that unlike Egypt and Tunisia, or even Libya, the presence of many different religious factions in Syria is raising the specter of sectarian violence:
"Once (the revolution) came to Syria, it had to be Syrian. It can't be Egyptian or Tunisian and thus it has to be violent and thus the hidden menace of sectarianism that could devour this revolution. That, at the very end when it's all fought, it would become what it always was destined to become: a war where (the regime) would rally the Alawis and their allies among the Christians and the Druze and the Ismailis etc. against the vast Sunni middle class," he said.
Ajami also notes the secret police that supports the regime makes the equation in Syria even more volatile than in Libya. Opposition reports say that members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been seen attacking protesters alongside Syria’s secret police. The reports have not been independently confirmed.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Syria Friday for using "outrageous force" against anti-government protesters, and said it "must come to an end, now." He also criticized President Assad for "seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens."