July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces killed at least seven anti-government protesters during a funeral today in the central city of Homs, human rights activists said.
The killings increased the death toll among anti-government protesters to more than 1,900 since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said in telephone interviews today.
More than 100 people have been arrested in the town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon, and in suburbs of the capital Damascus, they said. Pro-government gunmen yesterday attacked Homs after scores of people were killed in the previous four days amid reports of sectarian fighting, they said.
Syria has been ruled by minority Alawites, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, since Assad’s father took power in 1970. The majority of the country’s population is Sunni. Assad has blamed the rallies, part of a wave of unrest in the Middle East this year, on a foreign conspiracy while saying demonstrators’ demands “have merit” and that changes are needed.
Merhi said the burning of stores belonging to Sunnis and Alawites in Homs illustrates rising tensions between the two communities. Qurabi said pro-Assad gunmen had been sent into the city to stir up trouble.
“There is no sectarian fighting,” he said. “The government is trying to promote tension to legitimize the use and entry of its army into all areas.”
--With assistance from Emre Peker in Ankara. Editor: Ben Holland, Karl Maier.
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