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30 killed in Syrian violence, activists say (UPDATE)

Arab World Materials 19 July 2011 01:55
At least 30 people were killed in overnight fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, activists said Monday, warning of a potential civil war in the country, dpa reported.
30 killed in Syrian violence, activists say (UPDATE)

Updates Syrian forces attack funeral procession, grafs 5-13 (first version posted at 19:09)

At least 30 people were killed in overnight fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, activists said Monday, warning of a potential civil war in the country, dpa reported.

The clashes erupted in the central city of Homs after two supporters of Assad were kidnapped and killed by anonymous gunmen, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

"This infighting represents a serious shift and could be a sign of a coming civil war," the group added.

Al-Arabiya broadcaster, however, quoted unidentified witnesses as claiming that the 30 people had been killed by security forces.

Meanwhile, a Syrian activist told the German Press Agency dpa that Syrian security forces attacked Monday a funeral ceremony in Baraza near Damascus.

"The security forces attacked and arrested people participating in the funeral procession," Omar Idlibi a Syrian activist based in Beirut told dpa.

"Around 25 people who were participating in the funeral were rounded up by the security forces and taken to unknown destination," he said.

He added that the Syrian troops are now surrounding the town of Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border. "The troops are getting ready to enter the town," he said.

Syria's pro-government media outlets have described the Abu Kamal region, as a "passage for weapons and smuggling money" to the opposition in Syria.

Idlibi also said the Syrian regime is arresting Syrian activists in Damascus. He said Syrian forces arrested a leading opposition figure, Ali Abdullah, 61, after a raid on his home Sunday in the Damascus suburb of Qatana.

The opposition figure was released in May as part of a government amnesty after spending four years in prison for airing calls for democratic reforms in the country.

On Sunday night, supporters of Assad, who is facing unprecedented protests, held a massive rally in Damascus to mark the 11th anniversary of his rule.

The event also featured a concert as part of what the official Syrian Press Agency SANA termed the "Festival of Gratitude to the Nation."

The Syrian Interior Ministry said on Monday it would use all "forms of firmness" against what it branded terror groups of masked gunmen. It accused them of jeopardizing national security.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers on Monday sought to up the pressure on Assad's regime over its ongoing crackdown against anti-regime protesters, while also calling on the United Nations Security Council to finally condemn the violence.

Most, however, stayed clear of suggesting that Assad resign, with only Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt issuing an unusually outspoken call for his departure.

"The regime has to give way to a new regime, that's fairly obvious. This regime has run its course, it has lost the credibility and the legitimacy," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters before meeting his EU colleagues in Brussels.

In a joint statement, the ministers later warned that "by choosing a path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promises of broad reforms, the Syrian regime is calling into question its own legitimacy."

Meanwhile, Qatar has indefinitely closed its embassy in Damascus after pro-government Syrians attacked the building housing it, a Syrian newspaper reported Monday. "Members of the Qatari diplomatic mission have informed us that work in the embassy is suspended," a Syrian employee at the embassy told the semi-official newspaper Al Watan.

"They have also informed us that all diplomats of the embassy and its consular affairs section will leave for Qatar," he added.

There was no immediate official confirmation from either country.

Last week, government supporters threw stones, eggs and tomatoes at the Qatari embassy in protest against the Doha-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera's coverage of the unrest in the country. No casualties were reported.

Syria has been gripped by pro-democracy protests since mid-March in which more than 1,400 people have been killed, according to human rights advocates.

Such reports are hard to verify as the Syrian authorities have barred most foreign media and international human rights groups from entering the country.

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