Syria’s government approved on Tuesday a bill to rescind a decades-old Emergency law and agreed to abolish the state security court even as security forces fired on a mass protest of thousands in Homs where 10 people reportedly killed in clashes.
Three army officers and three children were killed by “armed criminal gangs” around the city, Syrian authorities announced.
“The sit-in was dispersed with force. There was heavy gunfire,” an activist said over phone, without being able to give details of possible casualties.
He said the security forces very early on Tuesday swarmed into Al-Saa Square, where some 20,000 people were staging a mass sit-in, scattering protesters who had vowed not to leave until President Bashar Al Assad stepped down.
“The latest incidents have shown that… armed Salafist groups, particularly in the cities of Homs and Banias, have openly called for armed revolt,” said an interior ministry statement carried by Sana news agency.
It accused such groups of killing soldiers, policemen and civilians, and of attacking public and private property, and warned that “their terrorist activities will not be tolerated.”
The authorities “will act with determination to impose security and stability in the country” and will “pursue the terrorists wherever they are in order to bring them to justice and end the armed revolt”, it said. The cabinet also approved a bill regulating demonstrations, the official news agency Sana said. Sana said the cabinet also passed a law to abolish a special security court which human rights lawyers says violates the rule of law and the right to fair trial.
It also passed legislation to “regulate the right of peaceful protest”. Permission from the Interior Ministry will be needed to demonstrate in Syria, the news agency said.
One activist dismissed the cabinet decision, saying Assad himself could have lifted emergency law immediately. “The government doesn’t need to issue anything … It’s in the hands of the president to lift it,” Ammar Qurabi said.
A senior international lawyer said the new law regulating demonstrations, which were banned under the state of emergency, would still mean “you have to ask permission from the Assad family to demonstrate”.
There was no immediate response from protest leaders. Repeal of the emergency law has been a central demand of reformists since protests began on March 15.
At least 200 people have been killed by security forces or plain-clothes police since the start of the protest movement, according to Amnesty International.
The government also announced a crackdown on an “armed revolt” by Islamist radicals, while Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Al Shaar told people “to refrain from taking part in all marches, demonstrations or sit-ins under any banner whatsoever.”
He warned that if demonstrations were held, “the laws in force in Syria will be applied in the interest of the safety of the people and the stability of the country”
At the outset, the authorities relaxed enforcement of the emergency law to permit peaceful gatherings but quickly started clamping down.
Meanwhile, the authorities vowed to suppress what they called an “armed revolt” by Salafists, Muslims who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam that seeks a return to practices common in the early days of the faith.
“The latest incidents have shown that … armed Salafist groups, particularly in the cities of Homs and Banias, have openly called for armed revolt,” Sana quoted the interior ministry as saying.
The ministry accused such groups of killing soldiers, policemen and civilians, and of attacking public and private property, and warned that “their terrorist activities will not be tolerated”.
The authorities said three army officers and three children were killed around Homs.
“Armed criminal gangs who block roads and spread fear in the area, came upon General Abdo Khodr Al Tellawi, his two children and his nephew, and killed them in cold blood” and “mutilated” the bodies, Sana reported.
Two other officers “fell as martyrs to armed criminal gangs’ bullets in Homs”, and General Mohammed Abdo Khaddour was shot in the head and chest as he traveled to his office there, the agency said.
An activist reached by telephone said a protest overnight in Homs “was dispersed with force. There was heavy gunfire.”
Another activist said four people were killed during the assault by security forces, but gave no details.
US called for Syria’s Assad to “address the legitimate aspirations of its people” in the wake of 11 deaths at the hands of security forces during protests.
US is “very concerned… about the Assad regime,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. Agencies