Text size

Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas is personally overlooking the attempts to control riots that broke out in northern Syria, along the border with Turkey, where the Kurdish minority is prominent.

The brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Colonel Maher Assad and other generals are assisting Tlas in his efforts. He is trying to restore peace in the region by negotiating with a delegation of Kurdish leaders.

However, according to attorney George Sara, the spokesman for the National Council for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, the talks have failed.

Speaking from the organization's headquarters in Paris, Sara told Haaretz that the Kurdish leaders refuse to hold talks with Tlas and any other military commanders, and demand to meet the Syrian Interior Minister.

According to Sara, 100 people were killed in the riots, most of them shot by Syrian police and military forces.

According an official Syrian statement, only 15 people were killed in the riots.

Kurdish sources in Europe said Sunday that dozens of people have been killed in a largely Kurdish area near Damascus in clashes with Syrian security forces.

However, by Sunday afternoon the sources said that in most places in Syria that had been the sites of conflict in the last few days, the situation has been calming down. At the same time, they said the situation continued to be tense and that police and military forces were patrolling the streets, some of which were under curfew.

The unrest began Friday in the north Syrian city of Qamishli, on the Turkish border, with the deaths of three children trampled in a riot during a soccer game. Rioting then spread to other areas of Syria where the Kurdish minority is prominent.

The weekend incidents represented the most violent wave of protests in Syria in recent memory. They follow U.S. threats to take sanctions against Damascus for its support of terror organizations, coupled with American suspicions that Syria is not do all it can to prevent Saddam loyalists from entering Iraq through its border.

According to the Kurdish sources, on Saturday Kurdish insurgents took over most of the Syrian administration buildings in Qamishli. Tensions there continued on Sunday, Israel Radio reported.

The Kurdish sources added that 29 victims were buried on Saturday at a Qamishli cemetery.

According to the reports, on Friday security forces at the soccer game in Qamishli fired live ammunition at the crowd, killing some 30 people.

Shots were also fired from within the crowd, injuring several Syrian officers, including a colonel.

The protests continued on Saturday, with tens of thousands of people demonstrating in Qamishli, populated mainly by Kurds.

Two local hospitals, one private and one governmental, reported hundreds of injuries. The report also claims protestors burned pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Another report claimed demonstrators in the nearby town of Amuda burned an installation of the Syrian security services.

Violence triggered by riot at soccer gameThe violence began in Qamishli when the local Jihad soccer team, comprised of mostly Arab and Kurd players, was playing the Fituwya group from the city of Dar el-Zur, near the Syrian border with Iraq. Fituwya fans began calling out "long live Saddam Hussein." The Jihad team responded with "long live Barazani" shouts, referring to one of the Kurdish leaders in Iraq.

Clashes ensued between the two camps inside the stadium, which contained some 5,000 people at the time, and three children were trampled to death during the ruckus.

Following the stadium incident, violent demonstrations spread on Friday to other cities in Syria's Kurdish regions. During the protests, signs and slogans slamming Assad's regime as well as the ruling Ba'ath Party were displayed. A demand was also raised for an international investigation into human rights violations during the incident.

Syrian loyalist forces, accompanied by tanks, were sent to the region, and a curfew was imposed in some areas. Efforts were also being made to calm the situation on Saturday. Syrian opposition groups, especially Kurdish ones operating outside the country, were attempting to raise public awareness to the incident, and were planning to hold demonstrations in various European cities.