A Syrian Muslim cleric called for national unity on Friday following a week of clashes between Arabs and Kurds that left 25 people dead and more than 100 wounded in northern Syrian towns.
Salah Kuftaro, the son of Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Kuftaro, said in a Friday sermon that the riots were a "strange phenomenon" that should not be generalized.
"The Kurds must not be viewed as troublemakers," said Kuftaro, imam of the Abu al-Nour Mosque in Damascus. "The Kurds are honest citizens and we will not allow [anybody] to say Arabs and Kurds. We are all Syrians."
The violence began March 12 with a brawl between supporters of rival soccer teams before a match in Qamishli, 775km northeast of Damascus. One team had many Kurdish players, the other had Arab players.
The fighting continued the next day when Kurds went on the rampage during a funeral for the riot victims, and it spread to Hasakah, a city 80km southwest of Qamishli.
On Tuesday, Kurds battled Arab policemen in Syria's second biggest city, Aleppo, 320km north of Damascus, and the nearby town of Afreen.
In the government's first report on casualties, Syrian Interior Minister Ali Hammoud said Thursday that a total of 25 people were killed in the violence, 19 of them in Hasakah and nearby cities and six in Aleppo.
The government has blamed the violence on what it calls "mobs and opportunists" who have been influenced from abroad, and Kuftaro repeated those claims.
"We are subjected to a major conspiracy that aims to harm us from inside after the failure of external plots," Kuftaro said. "Syria has long been an example of national coherence."
Also Friday, hundreds of Kurds demonstrated in a suburb near Damascus denouncing what they called "some demagogues who infiltrated Syrian areas" during last week's clashes.
Participants in the apparently pro-government march in the predominantly Kurdish suburb of Dumar, 8km west of Damascus, affirmed their adherence to national unity and condemned "threats and pressures" against their country.
The Al-Thawra government newspaper called on the government to act firmly against "any move or behavior that may harm national unity."
Kurds comprise about 1.5 million of Syria's 18.5 million people and live mostly in the underdeveloped provinces of Qamishli and Hasakah.
In a statement faxed to reporters, the New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the Syrian government's handling of the riots and said it should take immediate steps to curb excessive use of force and halt mass arrests following the unrest.
"Syria's Kurds have endured decades of severe discrimination under Baath Party rule," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
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