Syrian authorities warn against protesting in capital
AMMAN (Reuters) – Syria’s Interior Ministry warned Damascus residents Saturday against demonstrating after some of the most intense protests in the capital since the start of the five-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The warning came as Syria’s closest ally Iran said Damascus must listen to the “legitimate demands” of its people, but also said that any change in Syria’s ruling system or power vacuum in Damascus would be dangerous for the Middle East.
“The Interior Ministry calls on citizens not to respond to social Internet sites to participate in rallies or assemble in public squares in Damascus. This is for their safety,” a statement by the ministry published on official media said.
Syrian forces fired live ammunition to prevent thousands of protesters from marching on the center of Damascus from eastern suburbs earlier Saturday, witnesses and activists said, seriously injuring at least five people.
Security police and militiamen loyal to Assad, known as ‘shabbiha’, also fired live ammunition at worshippers who tried to demonstrate outside the al-Rifai mosque in the Kfar Sousa district of the capital, home to the secret police headquarters.
Assad loyalists also beat the mosque’s preacher, popular cleric Osama al-Rifai, who was treated with several stitches to his head, witnesses said.
“Some of the ‘amn’ (security) went on the roof and began firing from their AK-47s to scare the crowd. Around 10 people were wounded, with two hit by bullets in the neck and chest,” a cleric who lives in the area told Reuters by phone.
The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed since Assad sent in tanks and troops to crush months of street demonstrations calling for an end to his family’s 41-year rule.
Syrian authorities have blamed armed “terrorist groups” for the bloodshed and say 500 police and army have been killed. They have expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.