20 February 2012
Syrian security forces have deployed heavily in a tense Damascus neighborhood, blocking opposition activists from staging a second day of mass protests, as the government continued a nationwide crackdown on protest hubs.
Activists said Syrian police flooded the Mezze district on Sunday to prevent a funeral for a young protester from turning into a major rally against President Bashar al-Assad. Samer al-Khatib was shot dead Saturday, as security forces fired on a mass funeral for several other anti-Assad activists killed in a police crackdown the day before. The mass funeral was one of the Syrian capital's largest anti-Assad rallies of an 11-month opposition uprising.
Activists said police and pro-government militiamen forced Khatib's family to hold Sunday's funeral earlier than planned. Activist groups posted messages on Facebook urging Damascus residents to hold a one-day strike in solidarity with the uprising, but there was little response with the capital under tight government control.
Elsewhere, activists reported 14 people killed in violence linked to the revolt across Syria. Syrian state media said gunmen attacked a car carrying a Syrian state prosecutor and a judge in the northwestern province of Idlib, killing both officials and their driver Their deaths follow the Saturday assassination of an Aleppo city council member. Syrian state news agency SANA blamed "terrorists" for the killings.
SANA also said 12 security personnel were buried Sunday, after being killed in fighting with rebels. None of the casualty figures from the government or the activists could be independently verified because Syria restricts the work of foreign media.
The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said foreign intervention in the Syrian unrest would be "very difficult" because the Assad government has what he called a "very sophisticated, integrated" air defense system and chemical and biological weapons.
In an interview with U.S. television network CNN broadcast on Sunday, General Dempsey also said it is "premature" to arm Syrian opposition groups fighting to end Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. He said he challenges anyone to clearly identify Syria's opposition movement, much of which is in exile and lacks a unified structure.
Meanwhile, Egypt recalled its ambassador in Damascus, becoming the latest Arab nation to diplomatically isolate President Assad in the hope of pressuring him to end his deadly crackdown on dissent. Rights activists say the crackdown has killed more than 6,000 people since March.