Syrian forces fire on Kurdish funeral, two dead


Syrian security forces killed at least two people when they opened fire on tens of thousands of mourners on Saturday at the funeral of a Kurdish opposition figure, activists said.

The funeral of Meshaal al-Tammo in the eastern Syrian city of Qamishli turned into a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, with mourners chanting anti-Assad slogans and calling on him to step down.

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least two people were killed and three wounded when the funeral came under fire. It said at least 50,000 people had turned out for the funeral.

Security forces also opened fire on a funeral procession for three people who were killed on Friday in the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing one mourner and wounding 10, the group said. At least eight people were killed in anti-Assad protests after Friday prayers.

Activists said on Friday that four gunmen burst into a house in the city of Qamishli, shot dead Tammo and wounded his son. It was not clear who was behind the attack. The killing of Tammo, a respected opposition figure, angered Syrian Kurds who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 20 million population and largely support the uprising against Assad.

One activist said he feared the killing might encourage Syrian Kurds to take up arms against Assad forces, pushing the country closer to civil war. “This is a terrorist attack, a terrorist assassination. The Kurds might feel they want to revenge. We are very angry,” said a Kurdish activist who declined to be named. Tammo, a charismatic figure who was released from jail earlier this year, was a critic of Assad who had also angered powerful Kurdish parties because of his criticism of Kurdish rivals. The United States has condemned his killing.

Video footage broadcast by al Jazeera television showed Tammo’s coffin being carried on people’s shoulders wrapped in a Kurdish flag and covered with flowers. “Leave, Leave,” the mourners chanted. Fares al-Tammo, Meshaal’s son, told al Jazeera from Erbil in northern Iraq that the Kurds were angry and blamed the Syrian authorities for his father’s death. “This blood is precious to them (Kurds), they will not give up until the regime is overthrown and the execution of Bashar al-Assad.”

Activists in Damascus said Syrian authorities stepped up security in Kurdish areas in the capital.

Ethnic Kurds have long complained of discrimination and staged violent protests against Assad in 2004. Kurds are not allowed to teach Kurdish in schools or set up Kurdish radio stations. Assad has sent troops and tanks to crush protests against him since March but he has also promised reforms. He has ended a state of emergency and promised to hold a parliamentary election in February.

He tried to pacify the Kurds by giving citizenship to tens of thousands of people, and casualties in Kurdish areas remained the lowest as anti-government protests swept the country. Many of Assad’s opponents say his reform promises are hollow and that his government has forfeited all legitimacy after killing at least 2,900 civilians, by a U.N. count.

Syria accuses foreign powers of arming demonstrators and blames violence on armed groups. Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday that more than 1,100 security personnel had been killed in the unrest.