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Syrian Army Looms in Streets Following Shootings at Funeral
February 19, 2012

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Armed security forces were omnipresent in a Damascus neighborhood Sunday, one day after police opened fire on a funeral that doubled as a rally against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Up to 30,000 people had attended the funeral. Witnesses said that the shooting started right after the burial.

On Sunday, shops opened as normal in the central part of the capital city. In a message to those planning a large student protest, security personnel were visible around schools in Mazzeh province, site of much agitation in recent days. School protests went ahead in other parts of the city, although those gatherings were much smaller than the one called for in Mazzeh, a part of the city that houses many embassies and government offices.

The death toll continued to mount, as about 20 people were killed in Damascus alone during the weekend, in a stark reminder that the capital city was now a place of focus for the anti-Assad movement. The government has largely enjoyed intense support in the capital and widespread support among the upper class elsewhere in the country. The lower classes have formed a large part of the opposition. 

International sources say that the death toll has now topped 6,000.

Reports continued to come in from the central city of Homs, where government troops and tanks were shelling areas of the country's third-largest city for the 15th straight day. Many neighborhoods were on lockdown in the opposition stronghold.

Another government offensive continued in Hama, site of a large uprising against Hafez Assad, father of the current president, in 1982. Violence has been reported in the city nearly continually since mid-2011.

Hama has long been an opposition stronghold. Its largely Sunni Muslim population mirrors the rest of the country. The Assad regime and much of the government belong to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The dispute between Shia and Sunni goes back hundreds of years.

Reports coming in from the ancient city of Palmyra say that government troops have set up camp in the world heritage site and have been firing on civilians off and on for a few weeks. The home of legendary Queen Zenobia, Palmyra survives in the form of Roman ruins and a neighboring modern city that houses about 60,000 people. The modern city, a longtime tourist attraction, is now filled with tanks and with soldiers manning security checkpoints.

On the diplomatic front, Egypt added its name to the list of countries withdrawing their ambassadors to Syria, joining Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and other Arab nations.



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