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SYRIA: Activist's death shakes opposition as casualty count jumps

September 12, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Screen shot 2011-09-12 at 8.30.26 PM The body of well-known Syrian opposition activist Ghaith Mattar was delivered to his family over the weekend by security forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Mattar was on the run for three months before he was arrested in a suburb of Damascus early last week. 

Mattar, 26, originally from the Damascus suburb of Daraya, was admired for his innovative ideas when it came to the organization of peaceful protests in his town, activists said. 

In a statement released Sunday night, the prominent activist network Local Coordination Committees, along with four other networks, condemned the "slaying" of Mattar, accusing security forces of torturing the young man for three days between his arrest and the day his body was handed over to his family. 

"Gaith and his friends in Daraya were advocates of nonviolent struggle. He was the one who came up with the initiative of facing security fire and violence with bottles of water, flowers and bouquets," the statement said. 

Yahya Sharbaji, also an activist from Daraya, was arrested with Mattar and allegedly killed by security forces. 

Screen shot 2011-09-12 at 9.42.38The crackdown against peaceful antigovernment protesters continued Monday with fresh military assaults in Hama. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 19 activists were killed across the central cities of Homs and Hama as well as around the Damascus suburbs.

Mass arrests were also reported in Aleppo, the largest Syrian city known for being generally absent from the scenes of protest. 

"I woke up to plainclothes security forces closing in on us. I noticed that communication was cut and the city was under siege," said one resident of Hama who goes by the honorific Abu Zeid. 

According to the Local Coordination Committees, ambulances and medics were prevented from reaching the wounded. At least two people were killed by security forces in Homs when live ammunition and heavy artillery were used to shell residential building, activists reported. 

"Bullets rained down on us with a vengeance for hours at a time. It was impossible to leave your house, not to mention your room," said Majed, a resident and activist in Homs. 

Military offensives and mass arrests intensified in the midst of widely attended protests across various cities on the evening of Assad's birthday. In the video above, residents of the Kiswa suburb of Damascus burned Russian and Chinese flags in condemnation of the political and diplomatic support the two countries have given the Assad regime.

Protesters sarcastically lighted a cake in commemoration of Assad's birthday, calling it "the day of international misery."

"Sept. 11 was a day of disaster for the United States, and a disaster for us with the birth of the butcher," one banner reads in an effort to appeal to American sympathy. Other banners also called for support from the United Arab Emirates. 

Anti-regime protestors clapped their hands, their arms flapping against the dark background of midnight, "Victory is the father of martyrdom," they sang. 

-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo, from top: Ghaith Mattar in a handout released by the Human Rights Watch on Friday.

Photo: Protesters in Kiswa demonstrate on Assad's birthday. Credit: YouTube

Video: Demonstrators take to the streets in Kiswa with sarcastic birthday cakes and banners calling for Emarati support. Credit: YouTube