Syria buried its dead yesterday following a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests that killed 44 people, as US President Barack Obama expressed “acute concern” about the situation in the country.
Funerals were being held in various regions, an activist said, as a human rights advocate put the death toll from Friday’s protests at 44, with most of the casualties in the western province of Idlib and the central city of Homs.
“Syrian authorities are continuing to use excessive force and live ammunition to face popular protests in various regions throughout the country,” said Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights, who was reached by telephone.
Qurabi said 26 people were killed in Idlib and 13 in Homs. Two people were also killed in the eastern town of Deir Ezzor, one in Daraya, a suburb of the capital Damascus, one in the coastal city of Latakia and one in central Hama.
Among the dead were a 12-year-old boy and four others between the ages of 15 and 18. One was also identified as a soldier.
The official SANA news agency put the death toll at 17 — among them police and security troops — and blamed the violence on “armed groups.”
Quoting a Syrian interior ministry official, SANA said these groups had taken advantage of specific instructions by authorities not to open fire on public gatherings.
“These armed groups opened fire on several gatherings ... and on the police,” SANA said. “They also vandalized public and private property.”
Foreign media are not allowed to travel in the country to report on the unrest, making it difficult to verify information.
Fridays have become a rallying point in the nine-week revolt that has posed the greatest challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s 11-year rule.
Assad’s regime has responded to the violence with a brutal crackdown that has left at least 850 people dead and hundreds injured, according to rights groups. Thousands more have been arrested and tortured, activists say.
“The regime claims it wants reforms and dialogue, but every Friday there are martyrs,” one activist said. “We also have numerous reports of torture.”
“Clearly, there are people within the government and also in the opposition who don’t want dialogue,” he added. “There are also some banking now on US intervention.”
Meanwhile, Kuwait secured a seat on Friday on the UN Human Rights Council after Syria’s withdrawal following international pressure over its crackdown on the protests.
Rights groups quickly turned their attention to Kuwait’s record and said it must improve.
Syria withdrew from the race for a seat last week after coming under intense international pressure, but it has indicated plans to run for a seat again in 2013.
“Syria’s candidacy was obviously beyond the pale, but the issue is why it was able to run uncontested for a council seat in the first place,” Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch said. “Kuwait’s human rights record may be preferable to Syria’s, but that’s a remarkably low bar to meet.”