Middle East

Syria crisis: Deadly shooting at Damascus funeral

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Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir: "We're told that security forces opened fire." This footage has not been verified.

Syrian troops have fired on mourners during a funeral that turned into a demonstration in Damascus, killing at least one person, activists say.

The shooting occurred at a funeral for people killed during a protest against President Bashar al-Assad on Friday.

The violence comes during a visit by a Chinese envoy, who urged dialogue in a bid to defuse the 11-month crisis.

State TV quoted him as saying he backed government plans for a referendum on a new constitution followed by elections.

The opposition has called for a boycott of the 26 February referendum, saying it cannot be held as violence continues.

Appeal for calm

Activists say there was a huge turnout for Saturday's funeral in the Mezzeh district on the western edge of Damascus. Mourners were burying three youths shot dead during protests following Friday prayers.

The funeral procession turned into one of the biggest demonstrations the capital has seen, with thousands of people chanting slogans calling for an end to the Assad regime.

According to activists, security forces opened fire, killing at least one protester and injuring several others.

Image caption Zhai Jun said that "a nation cannot develop without stability"

Despite the current crackdown, there were similar protests after Friday prayers in many parts of the country.

Opposition activists say government forces on Saturday renewed their bombardment of the restive central city of Homs.

The violence came after Chinese envoy Zhai Jun held talks with President Assad in Damascus.

Syrian TV quoted Mr Zhai as saying: "The position of China is to call on the government, the opposition and the rebels to halt acts of violence immediately.

"We hope that the referendum on a new constitution as well as the forthcoming parliamentary elections pass off calmly."

After the meeting, Mr Assad was quoted as saying: "What Syria is facing is fundamentally an effort to divide it and affect its geopolitical place and historic role in the region."

China was one of the nations that voted against a recent UN General Assembly resolution calling on Mr Assad to stop his 11-month crackdown on dissent and step down.

Beijing, along with Moscow, has insisted outsiders cannot force regime change in Syria.


Opposition activists said government forces were continuing their two-week rocket and artillery attack on the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs on Saturday.

Activist Mohammad al-Homsi told Reuters news agency: "Troops have closed in on Baba Amr and the bombardment is mad, but I don't know if they are willing to storm the neighbourhood while it is snowing.

"There is no electricity and communications between districts are cut, so we are unable to get a death toll."

The BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says the Syrian government clearly wants to quell all armed resistance and seal its borders to prevent supplies to the opposition.

Meanwhile the human rights group Amnesty International said it had obtained new evidence of torture being used by Syrian forces against opponents.

Amnesty researcher Neil Sammonds said one man told him that part of his hand was blown off with explosives after he refused to pray to a photograph of President Assad.

Other Syrians at a camp in Jordan said detainees were subjected to protracted beatings. One prisoner said he had been forced to witness the rape of another male detainee.

Syria restricts access to foreign media and it is often not possible to verify some reports and casualty figures.

Human rights groups say more than 7,000 people have died throughout Syria since last March.

The government says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed combating "armed gangs and terrorists".