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Mourners call suicide bomb victims "martyrs;" anti-Assad groups fear offensive

Thousands of Syrian mourners have attended the funerals of 44 people killed in Friday's twin suicide bombings of intelligence agency compounds in Damascus.

Syria bashar al assad 2011 12 24Enlarge
A Syrian performer hangs from hooks while holding his national flag in front of a giant picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a show of endurance during a pro-regime rally in Damascus on December 2, 2011. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of Syrian mourners have attended the funerals of 44 people killed in Friday's twin suicide bombings of intelligence agency compounds in Damascus.

The attacks — the first suicide bombings in a 9-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad — killed mostly civilians, and some security officers, and wounded 166, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing Syrian state media.

Assad's government has pointed the finger at Al Qaeda, a means The Associated Press wrote, of bolstering its argument "that terrorists, rather than true reform-seekers" were behind the Syrian revolt.

State TV broadcast the funeral live.

The coffins, draped in the red, black and white colors of the Syrian flag, were labeled with the names of the victims, except those who weren't identified due to extensive injuries, according to media reports.

Mourners chanted slogans of support for Assad's regime, calling the victims "martyrs" and shouting, "We want no one but Assad."

The opposition, meantime, voiced concerns that government forces were "preparing for a massive assault on key activist areas in central Syria," using the funerals as a cover, the AP reported.

"We believe this is in preparation for a large-scale attack," Bassam Ishak, secretary-general of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella opposition group, told the news agency.

Shelling in the city of Homs on Saturday killed at least three people and set several homes and shops ablaze, activists said.

(GlobalPost reports: Syrian city under attack by tanks)

Homs has been a focal point of the Assad government's crackdown on dissent and has seen bloody confrontations between Assad's loyal forces and mutinous soldiers.

The Daily Star, meantime, reported an appeal by the SNC for the Arab League to send observers to Homs and other hotspots.

Arab League observers are due to arrive in Syria after the 22-member bloc struck a deal with Damascus aimed at ending the violence.

"Since early this morning, the [Homs] neighborhood of Baba Amr has been under a tight siege and the threat of military invasion by an estimated 4,000 soldiers," the Daily Star quotes an SNC statement received in Nicosia as saying.

The paper quotes Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem as saying that he expects the observers to "vindicate his government's contention that the violence in the country is the work of armed terrorists."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/111225/syria-damascus-suicide-bombings-bashar-assad-arab-league