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3 prominent Syrians resign in protest against deadly crackdown

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BEIRUT — Two Syrian lawmakers and a state-appointed Muslim leader resigned Saturday in a gesture of protest a day after security forces killed more than 100 people in the bloodiest crackdown since anti-government demonstrations began in Syria in mid-March.

The resignations came as security forces fired on tens of thousands of people in at least three towns who were attending funerals for protesters killed Friday.

By nightfall, 12 people were confirmed dead in the towns of Moadamiya, Douma and Alabadi, and the Damascus suburb of Saqba-Gota, said Wissam Tarif, who heads a Syrian human rights organization. On the previous day, already dubbed Great Friday by some Syrians, 109 people died and many more were injured, he said. About 300 people have been killed since the protests began, according to rights groups.

The latest crackdowns came a day after President Obama voiced his toughest criticism yet of the situation in Syria, condemning the government’s use of force “in the strongest possible terms” and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to “change course now.”

Obama blamed Assad directly for Friday’s harsh response while also tying Syrian repression to Iran, and an administration official said the White House was “looking at a range of possible responses to this unacceptable behavior.”

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, quoted an unidentified official Saturday as saying that Obama’s remarks were not based on “an objective and comprehensive view of what is truly happening.”

The members of parliament who resigned, Nasser al-Hariri and Khalil al-Rifaei, and the mufti, or senior religious leader, Rezq Abdulrahman Abazeid, are all from the region of Daraa, where Syria’s uprising began after teenagers there were arrested for spray painting anti-government graffiti.

The three men had met with Assad this month and been promised that there would be no more bloodshed in Daraa, Tarif said, adding that a town in the region, Izra, has been under siege for the past 48 hours, with communications cut.

People in Izra “went on the speakers of the mosque, asking for help from their neighbors,” he said, adding of the security forces, “What did they do? They shot the speakers of the mosque. So basically, people went to their MPs and said, ‘People are being killed in Izra.’ ”

Hariri said Saturday that he felt “the need to step down, as long as I am unable to protect the voters killed by live ammunition,” the al-Jazeera news channel reported.

The resignations gave a boost to activists, who sounded exhausted after another day of tallying the dead and injured.

“It’s a slap in the face of the regime,” said Razan Zaitouneh, an activist in the capital, Damascus. “The authorities have been saying that everything is okay, and no one is dying, and this is all coming from Islamic terrorists. These resignations tell the authorities, ‘You are lying.’ ”

The fact that the two lawmakers were members of the ruling Baathist party made their resignations especially galling to the government, Tarif said.

They might also have put themselves at risk, said a Damascus activist known as Abu Adnan. “We’ve seen the government in the past literally arresting parliament members for disagreeing” with the president, he said.

Syrian state media did not appear to have acknowledged the resignations Saturday. On the Friday clashes, SANA said only that government forces had used tear gas and hoses to settle scuffles between protesters and civilians and that eight people had been killed in a gunfight involving “masked individuals who opened fire” on military personnel.

It has been impossible to independently confirm events in Syria because most foreign journalists have been expelled. Service to landlines and cellphones was cut off Saturday in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Douma, activists said.

In Douma, protesters were shot as they tried to transport bodies for burial, Abu Adnan said.

“The secret services opened fire from the roof of a secret service building nearby,” he said witnesses told him. As in many recent protests, he said, the shots came without warning.

Many of those injured in crackdowns Friday and Saturday were being treated at impromptu field hospitals set up in private homes in an attempt to avoid sweeps by government forces who have been arresting injured people in hospitals, activists said.

At a hospital near Douma on Saturday night, civilians encircled the building to prevent security forces from entering, said a witness there who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

“I can see one or two thousand people around the hospital, guarding the injured people,” he said.

Opposition members said Saturday that they fear the government’s apparent willingness to kill large numbers of people could lead to a drawn-out conflict — more akin to developments in Libya than to the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings that protesters had sought to emulate.

But unlike in Libya, they said, the international community seems unlikely to come to their aid.

“Now I am very confused,” the Douma man said. “I am not sure of the future. The regime will kill everyone who will try to gain his freedom, so we now go into a very difficult period here in Syria.”

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