Police spread through Syrian capital to prevent further protests against Bashar al-Assad in wake of demonstrator’s funeral
A Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC Syria) picture shows Syrian mourners carrying coffins of protesters said to have been killed by regime forces. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Police and militia patrols have fanned out in Damascus to prevent a repeat of protests against President Bashar al-Assad that threaten his grip on the Syrian capital, opposition activists said.
On Saturday, thousands of Syrians demonstrated in the heart of the capital in one of the biggest anti-government rallies there since the nationwide uprising almost a year ago. On Sunday, the body of Samer al-Khatib, a young protester who was killed when security forces opened fire on the protest, was buried in the city’s Mezze district.
Security forces maintained a heavy presence to prevent the funeral turning into an anti-Assad protest, according to opposition activists contacted by Reuters.
Fifteen pick-up trucks carrying security police and armed pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabiha, surrounded the funeral as Khatib was buried quietly, they said.
Police and militia vehicles patrolled Mezze while secret police agents spread out on foot, stopping men at random and checking their identification cards, they said.
“Walking in Mezze now carries the risk of arrest. The area is quiet and even the popular food shops in Sheikh Saad are empty,” one activist, Moaz al-Shami, said, referring to a main street.
Saturday’s shooting by security forces took place as a Chinese envoy, the deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun, met Assad and appealed to all sides to end the violence. Zhai also expressed Beijing’s support for Assad’s plan to hold a referendum and multi-party elections within four months – a move the west and some in Syria’s fragmented opposition movement have dismissed as a sham.
China has emerged as a leading player in multiple international efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and remains one of Assad’s main supporters. Xinhua news agency said: “China believes, as many others do, there is still hope the Syria crisis can be resolved through peaceful dialogue between the opposition and the government, contrary to some western countries’ argument that time is running out for talks in Syria.”
Western countries were “driven less by their self-proclaimed ‘lofty goal’ of liberalising the Syrian people than by geopolitical considerations,” Xinhua said.
Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, told the BBC that he feared: “Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the UN security council because of Russian and Chinese opposition.”
Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), Syria’s opposition network, said security forces killed 14 people in Damascus and other parts of the country on Saturday, including five in the opposition stronghold of Homs. None of the figures could be verified independently.
Government forces bombarded Homs again on Sunday. The western city, strategically situated on the road between Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, has been under siege for more than two weeks and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding as food and medical supplies to treat the wounded are running short.
Jordan said it had set up the first refugee camp in the country for Syrians since the uprising began, in preparation for what many fear may be a mass exodus of Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland.
Sami Halaseh, of Jordan’s public works ministry, said the area, about 12 miles south of the border, is expected to be ready in two weeks. The camp will be monitored by a round-the-clock police guard.