Thousands of people chanting for the toppling of the Syrian regime took to the streets of the country’s third largest city for mass funerals, as activists denied any US role in the uprising.
Rights groups say security forces killed at least 25 in Homs on Sunday night as protests erupted despite president Bashar al-Assad’s offers of reforms in a bid to quell unrest.
A further five people were killed on Sunday night in the nearby town of Talbisseh, and there were also unconfirmed reports of four dead in Latakia, rights activists said.
Residents of Homs and Talbisseh told news agencies that the cities were tense following funerals for at least 8 of the victims. The injured were refusing to seek medical treatment for fear of being arrested, they said, while reports suggested a sit-in was being staged.
Despite a reduced level of violence during Friday’s protests and a pledge to lift emergency laws within the week, protesters turned out on Sunday for Syria’s independence day which commemorates the departure of the last French soldier in 1946.
Protests also took place in Daraa, Duma and Latakia on Sunday, and Daraa again on Monday]. Amateur footage suggests a rapidly growing number of demonstrators are calling for the toppling of the regime rather than freedom.
Amid the funerals, internal activists stressed the grassroots nature of Syria’s uprising after the publication of a US embassy cable leaked to Wikileaks on Monday saying that the US had channelled funds to Syrian pro-democracy groups.
The cableclaimed that, since 2006, $6m (£3.6m) had been channelled to groups including the Movement for Justice and Development, a moderate Islamist party based in London, and Barada TV.
The Syrian government – who said one policeman had been killed and 11 injured in Talbisseh at the hands of an armed gang – has repeatedly blamed the past month of protests on armed gangs linked to outsiders, from Lebanese enemies to exiled opposition.
“Even if the US gave money to these groups, it has no bearing on the protests,” said one independent activist in Damascus. “It is clear that this movement was started by normal people, not the opposition – which barely exists anyway – and not even us activists.”
Ausama Monajed, an activist helping to publicise the protests, is a member of the party, but said his work was run by volunteers only.
Few people in Syria watch Barada TV, preferring the Dubai-based Orient TV or al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, while Syria’s weak, and mostly exiled, opposition has little influence inside the country.
While on Sunday some in the capital expressed positive views over Assad’s speech, which was seen as targeting the silent majority who have yet to come out in the centres of Damascus and Aleppo, the renewed use of violence may have caused a resurgence of discomfort.
Since the violence of 8 April, a growing number of women have staged protests. On Saturday an unknown number of Syrian students posted a statement on Facebook condemning the violence used against protesters and calling for a three-day boycott of lectures starting on Tuesday]. Some students have been referred to the punishment committee of Damascus University after a small protest last week.