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Security forces in Syria kill 12 mourners

At least 12 mourners were killed yesterday in Syria as pro-democracy protesters buried their dead after the bloodiest day yet of an uprising against the county's authoritarian government. Two politicians also resigned from parliament in a sign of growing unease at the government's use of lethal force.

Nasser al-Hariri, a member of Syria's parliament from Deraa, yesterday told al-Jazeera Arabic TV: "I can't protect my people when they get shot at so I resign from parliament." Minutes later, a second politician, Khalil al-Rifae, also from Deraa, resigned live on the channel.

The resignations -- the first during this crisis -- were a significant sign of unease at escalating violence. Security forces again opened fire yesterday at funerals for Friday's victims, where large crowds of mourners were chanting anti-government slogans.

A witness in Izraa said that five people from nearby Dael and Nawa were shot dead at the entrance to the town yesterday. "They were attempting to come to the funerals of 10 people killed on Friday," he said.

He insisted that the security and army were responsible. News agencies reported that at least two mourners had been shot dead by snipers in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, and a further three in the district of Barzeh.

Human rights organisations and activists said at least 76 people and possibly more than 100 were killed during the largest and bloodiest protests yet on Friday, as the unrest continued into its eighth week.

Al-Jazeera reported accounts of Syrian security officers entering hospitals and clinics to take the dead and injured to military hospitals in an apparent attempt to cover up casualty figures.

Local human rights organisations claimed some Syrian Christians were among the dead. Christians, who make up around 10 per cent of Syria's population of 22 million, are largely supportive of the regime due to fears of a backlash by the Sunni Muslim majority. The claims could not be independently verified.

Easter celebrations today, in which parades usually flood the streets of Damascus's old city, have been cancelled.

It is unclear whether this was a decision by Christian leaders or if the government had put pressure on them in a bid to prevent big gatherings.

As the situation escalates, Syrian observers said the government had made it clear that it intended to cling to power with the use of violence, despite attempts at reform.

"They want to push demonstrators to the limits," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian dissident based in Dubai. He still believed that President Bashar al-Assad had time to show that he was serious about reform.

But after Mr Assad recently lifted the country's state of emergency, abolished the security court and appointed new governors in Latakia, Homs and Deraa, other commentators said he was running out of options.

Protesters have responded with a new round of chants. "We want the toppling of the regime," said a resident of Ezraa, a small southern town that saw one of the highest death tolls on Friday.

"The blood of our martyrs makes this our responsibility now."

Katherine Marsh is the pseudonym of a journalist living in Damascus

© Observer

Sunday Independent