Funeral for Damascus Bombing Victims Turns into Pro-Assad Rally

Posted December 24th, 2011 at 3:20 pm (UTC-5)
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A mass funeral in Damascus for the victims of a double suicide car bombing on Friday has turned into a strong show of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government is under pressure from a nine-month opposition uprising.

Thousands of people attended Saturday's funeral at the Omayyad Mosque, where authorities placed the flag-draped coffins of the 44 people killed in the attacks, some still unidentified. Many of the mourners shouted pro-Assad slogans and denounced Qatar, one of the strongest Arab critics of the Syrian president's deadly crackdown on the uprising.

Syria says the suicide bombings outside two government security compounds in Damascus also wounded 166 people. The attacks were the first of their kind in Syria since March, when pro-democracy activists began protests against Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. Syrian army defectors later joined the uprising and have battled pro-Assad troops.

No group has claimed responsibility for Friday's bombings. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby condemned them in a statement Saturday. Arab League officials said the attacks must not deter the regional bloc from launching an observer mission inside Syria aimed at verifying government pledges to stop cracking down on protesters.

The first few members of the Arab League mission arrived in Damascus on Thursday after Syria agreed to let them in under international pressure. A Sudanese general who leads the team was due to arrive in the Syrian capital later Saturday, followed by 50 more observers on Monday. The overall team is expected to total at least 150 people.

Syrian rights activists say pro-Assad forces killed at least 15 civilians in attacks on centers of protest around the country on Friday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the bodies of four more civilians were found showing signs of torture on the streets of the central town of Houla on Saturday. It urged the Arab League observers to go to Houla immediately to document the killings.

Syria blames the Damascus suicide bombings on al-Qaida terrorists. But, opposition activists accuse the government of orchestrating the attacks to try to prove to the Arab League that terrorists are behind the opposition revolt, rather than true reform-seekers.

Syrian state news agency SANA says seven army and police officers killed in fighting with insurgents were buried on Saturday.

Syria said Thursday more than 2,000 security force members had been killed since the uprising began. The United Nations says at least 5,000 people have been killed.

Syria's oil minister said Saturday the country's oil production has declined about 35 percent due to Western-led sanctions. Major EU oil companies, including Shell, stopped doing business with Syria earlier this month to comply with the sanctions.