Syrian security forces halt funerals; tanks deployed (UPDATE)

Syrian security forces halt funerals; tanks deployed (UPDATE)

Adds info on planned activist meeting for Monday

Syrian security forces prevented the families of people killed in the ongoing protests from holding funeral processions in the Damascus suburb of Kiswa, activists said Saturday, dpa reported.

The mourners were forced to bury the bodies without funerals, many of which have also turned into anti-government protests over the past few weeks.

At least 16 people were killed on Friday after security forces fired live ammunition at protesters.

Eighteen tanks were deployed throughout Kiswa, as security forces launched raids in the town, according to activists who have been monitoring the protests and compiling lists of those killed.

They said one person was killed in Kiswa early Saturday, but the body was taken away by security before it could be identified.

Hundreds of soldiers besieged the Baraza neighbourhood of Damascus and telephone lines were cut in the area, activists said.

Security forces were also deployed in the Moadamiya district of the capital.

Human rights groups say that more than 1,300 civilians have been killed and 10,000 detained since protests demanding greater freedoms and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad began in March. Hundreds of security personnel have also been killed in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the official SANA news agency reported that seven people - civilians and troops - were killed on Friday in attacks by armed groups in different parts of the country.

The government blames "armed groups" and "infiltrators" for the unrest.

About 100 independent Syrian opposition figures are to meet in Damascus Monday to discuss ways to end the crisis, opposition writer and journalist Louai Hussein announced Saturday.

Hussein, who was arrested and released by the regime for his views, told Arab satellite channels he has called for the meeting because he believes that activists should have the right to speak about the situation.

But some of the expected attendees continue to express fear for their safety, only commenting on the planned meeting under the cloak of anonymity.

"Even though the conferees are not the spokespersons of the protesters in the street, they are opposition figures who were arrested in the last few months for calling for reforms in the country," one activist told the German Press Agency dpa.

"Those figures are trying to formulate a kind of plan to end the current crisis in the country and reach a compromise with the regime of al-Assad," the activist added.

"There is a lack of trust between the activists and the regime, maybe during this meeting they can raise their case and the regime would listen."

The government crackdown on protesters has led thousands to flee to Turkey and Lebanon.

The chief of Syria's Red Crescent, Abdul-Rahman Attar, said Saturday that those displaced in Turkey can return to the country with no fear of retribution.

"We, as the Red Crescent, guarantee that the Syrian government will not call (the refugees) for questioning," Lebanese radio quoted Attar as saying.

More than 11,739 Syrians crossed the border into Turkey to escape the violence.

"With the comprehensive amnesty declared, they would not be interrogated," Attar said. Al-Assad ordered a general amnesty on Tuesday in a move aimed at easing the unrest.

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