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Syrian police said to have killed dozens in clashes

By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

Syrian security forces killed dozens of people and injured hundred during violent clashes over the weekend, in the north of the country, according to reports that reached Haaretz on Saturday. According to the reports, by relatives of witnesses, the violence started during a soccer game and later spread to demonstrations throughout the Kurdish regions in the country.

Associated Press reports claim at least nine people were killed, although Kurdish sources state the death toll reaches 80. Kurdish sources also claim their forces killed six Syrian officers and three Syrian police officers in the exchange of fire.

According to the Kurdish sources, on Saturday Kurdish insurgents took over most of the Syrian administration buildings in the northern city of Qamishli, on the Turkish border.

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.

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, when 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.

Friday's incident represents 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.

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