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SYRIA: Government blames foes for killing of cleric's son

October 3, 2011 |  2:39 pm

Syrian funeral

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The Syrian government on Monday accused what it called terrorist attackers of killing the son of a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric and said it had discovered a large number of weapons near the Turkish border.

The developments come as a wave of what appear to be targeted assassinations and intense urban battles — some reportedly involving army defectors who have taken up arms against the government — is raising the prospect of sectarian strife and even civil war.

Some are warning that a new and bloodier chapter in the unrest inspired in part by "Arab spring" protests may be about to begin.

On Sunday, a broad-based new opposition council accused President Bashar Assad of “a policy of sectarian incitement” that “is pushing the country to the brink of civil war.”

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of the disparate opposition groups, said it backed peaceful means to topple Assad and rejected any foreign intervention or military force to effect change.

However, reports from Syria have indicated that both defectors and other antigovernment activists may have in some cases taken up arms, though the dissidents still are heavily outgunned by government artillery, tanks and other equipment.

The government said it had seized scores of pump-action shotguns, Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms in the city of Idlib, near the Turkish border.

In an emotional sermon carried live Monday on state television, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, whose 21-year-old son was gunned down Sunday in an apparent ambush, lauded Assad as a leader “who wants to guide Syria to victory, put the Syrian people on the path to victory and give the homeland’s sons the opportunity to be proud of their values, religion and Arabism.”

The grand mufti’s son was “assassinated by an armed terrorist group” on the road between Idlib and Aleppo, the government said.

Hassoun is a firm Assad ally, who has echoed the government's assertion that the unrest is the result of a foreign conspiracy making use of armed gangs.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: The funeral procession of Saria Hassoun, son of Syria's top Sunni Muslim cleric, in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday. Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency