AMMAN/BEIRUT – China accused Western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.
Despite pursuing a sustained military crackdown on the opposition in cities across the country, President Bashar al-Assad forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum at the end of the week. Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, isolating neighborhoods from each other.
"Hama is cut off from the outside world. There are no landlines, no mobile phone network and no internet. House to house arrests take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods," an opposition statement said.
Government troops extended their control on Hama after an offensive last week that concentrated on northern neighborhoods on the edge of farmland that have provided shelter for Free Syrian Army rebels.
The rebel fighters have been attacking militiamen, known as shabbiha, while avoiding open confrontations with armored forces that had amassed around Hama.
Government forces also maintained their siege of pro-opposition neighborhoods of Homs, south of Hama on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Opposition activists reported sporadic morning shelling of Baba Amro district.
Security forces also mounted a campaign of arrests and raids in two suburbs of Deraa city and loud gunfire was heard, activists said. The reports could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, Syrian security forces have fired on a huge protest against President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, opposition activists said, shortly after a Chinese envoy appealed for a halt to 11 months of violence.
The shooting took place at the funerals of three youths killed a day earlier in an anti-Assad protest that was one of the biggest in the capital since a nationwide uprising started. "They started firing at the crowd right after the burial," said a witness.
People tried to flee and seek shelter in alleyways, he said. The opposition Syrian Revolution Coordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head. A shopkeeper said many protesters were arrested.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activit group, said security forces had killed 14 people in Damascus and other parts of the country, including five in the opposition stronghold of Homs. None of the figures could be verified independently.
Up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the capital's Mezze district, near the headquarters of Airforce Intelligence and that of the ruling Baath Party, witnesses said. Footage of the funeral broadcast on the Internet showed women ululating to honor the victims. Mourners shouted: "We sacrifice our blood, our soul for you martyrs. One, one, one, the Syrian people are one." – Agencies