Syrian troops kill 7 on start of Muslim holiday
Published Tuesday, August 30, 2011 8:21AM EDT
BEIRUT - Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters Tuesday, killing at least seven people, including a 13-year-old boy, as worshippers poured out of mosques after prayers to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, activists said.
The bloodshed was in the southern province of Daraa, the central city of Homs and the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs following prayers on the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday following Ramadan.
"They can shoot and kill as much as they want, we will not stop calling for regime change," an activist in Daraa told The Associated Press by telephone, asking for anonymity out of fear of reprisals.
Amateur videos posted by activists online showed fired-up protesters calling for the downfall of the regime and even the execution of President Bashar Assad -- a sign of just how much the uprising against Assad has grown in both size and rage over the past five months.
The uprising began with modest calls for reform in Syria, an autocratic state that has been ruled by the same family for more than 40 years. But as the government crackdown escalated, so too did the protesters' demands. Now, most protesters are demanding nothing less than the downfall of the regime.
In the northern province of Idlib, a few hundred protesters marched with flower wreaths decorated with the Syrian flag and pictures of dead relatives and shouting: "Bashar, we don't want you."
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said six protesters were killed in Daraa province and one in Homs. An activist in Daraa confirmed the six deaths in Daraa, saying four were killed in the village of al-Harra and two others in Inkhil.
The deaths in al-Harra included a 13-year-old boy, they said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported heavy gunfire in the Qaboun district of the capital Damascus, with five people injured.
State-run news agency SANA said Assad performed Eid prayers in the Hafez Assad Mosque in the capital, named after Assad's father who ruled Syria with an iron fist for three decades until his death in 2000.
Pious Muslims traditionally visit cemeteries to pray for the dead on the first day of the Eid, and children get new clothes, shoes, haircuts and toys for the holiday. On Tuesday, many in Syria visited graves of loved ones who have been killed in the uprising.
The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in March, touched off by the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.
The government crackdown escalated dramatically at the start of Ramadan, a time of introspection and piety characterized by a dawn-to-dusk fast. Muslims typically gather in mosques during the month for special nightly prayers after breaking the fast, and the Assad government used deadly force to prevent such large gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests.
The LCC activist network said Syrians were keeping their Eid celebrations to a minimum this year in solidarity with the Syrians who have died and the families of detainees.
"There will be no happiness while the martyrs' blood is still warm," it said in a statement Tuesday.
The Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify witness accounts.