Further deaths reported as Syrian military accused of seizing Deraa mosque

Syrian security authorities stand accused of storming a mosque in the city of Deraa yesterday as part of attempts to quell ongoing unrest in the country, resulting in several reported fatalities.

The BBC reported that 66 civilians caught up in ongoing anti-government protests were believed to have been killed by security officials on Saturday (April 30) as soldiers allegedly established a presence on the roof of Deraa’s Omari mosque after storming the building.

State officials have said that official fatality figures were a lot lower than those reported in international media and included the death of four soldiers. Local television also reported that “armed terrorists” had attacked security forces in the cities of Deraa and Homs.

Foreign journalists are reportedly banned from entering the country, making official clarification of events in the country difficult.

According to the Al Jazeera news agency, the son of an imam at the Omari mosque was amongst the dead after allegedly being shot by security forces as Deraa reportedly came under “heavy shelling and gunfire”. The alleged attacks were reported to have taken place while civilians tried to bury bodies left over from protests taking place on Friday.

Al Jazeera journalist Rula Amin, based in the national capital of Damascus, stated that Deraa was thought to have witnessed some of the most severe clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

Amin added that within this backdrop, state television broadcasts featured people “confessing” to being members of terrorist groups that are sponsored by individuals based in Deraa, including the imam of the Omari mosque.

“We are told by residents that the imam was always asking for calm, for dialogue, and when I went to Deraa and I met him myself he did not say that people should carry guns or should fire at security forces,” she wrote. “He was adamant that people have the right to protest, that things need to change in Syria.”

International news organisation Reuters said that security forces had yesterday also arrested two “veteran” opposition figures and 11 female protesters taking part in a silent march around Damascus as part of their crack downs on anti-government sentiment in the country.

Reuters added that local human rights group Sawasiah currently estimates that 560 civilians had been killed by security forces since protests kicked off about six weeks ago.