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Syria Buries Damascus Bomb Victims

07 Jan 2012

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Thousands attended the funerals in Damascus

Thousands of people have taken part in a massive government-organised funeral ceremony for victims of Friday's bomb attack in the capital Damascus.

At least 26 people died in the attack, some of them from the security forces, reports the BBC.

The government has vowed to "strike back with an iron fist" against the perpetrators, but opponents accuse the authorities of staging the attack.

Meanwhile at least nine people died in clashes across Syria, the opposition says, as Arab League monitors visit.

They are currently in the country to assess the progress of a regional peace plan.

Opposition activists have urged Syrians to take to the streets in mass protests ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Sunday which will debate the initial findings of the observer mission.

They say the government crackdown has continued, with scores of people killed since the monitors arrived.

The UN says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed since protests against President Bashar al-Assad began 10 months ago.

The funerals were held at a mosque in the district of Midan, where the attack took place. It is usually a hotbed of protests against the government.

The coffins were brought in ambulances through streets lined with mourners.

But the ceremony and procession were clearly organised by the authorities, with many participants carrying pictures of President Bashar al-Assad or national flags, which were also used to cover the coffins.

Some of those taking part were also heard chanting pro-government slogans, like "The people want Bashar al-Assad!" and "One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!".

The Damascus blast happened at a busy junction in the Midan district of Damascus. State TV showed the shattered blood-stained windows of what appeared to be a bus carrying policemen.

Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar blamed the attack on a suicide bomber, who he said had "detonated himself with the aim of killing the largest number of people".

"We will strike back with an iron fist at anyone tempted to tamper with the security of the country or its citizens," he said.

The country's main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC) said the attacks had been carried out by Assad's government to discredit its critics.

"It is a continuation of the regime's dirty game as it tries to divert attention from massive protests," said spokesman, Omar Idlibi.

The US condemned the attack, saying violence was not "the right answer to the problems in Syria".

Two weeks ago 44 people died in similar blasts also blamed on terrorists but which opposition groups accused the government of staging.

According to the Syrian opposition Local Co-ordination Committees nine people died throughout the country in continuing violence on Saturday - five in Homs and four in Harasta on the outskirts of Damascus.

Local opposition groups said 35 had been killed on Friday, when anti-government protests traditionally follow Friday prayers. None of these numbers can be verified.

The Arab League observers have been in Syria since late December to monitor compliance with a peace plan under which the government promised to withdraw the military from the streets and cease its use of force against civilians.

But critics say Assad is using their presence as a political cover and that attacks continue.

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