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Syrian activists galvanized by killing of Kurdish leader

The killing of Mashaal Tammo, a Kurdish member of the new Syrian National Council who called for unity across ethnic and religious groups, may help galvanize Syrian activists seeking to topple President Assad.

By Staff writer / October 11, 2011

Syrian anti-government activists display wreathes and framed photos of slain Mashaal Tammo, a former political prisoner and a spokesman for the Kurdish Future Party who was the latest in a string of targeted killings in Syria, during a protest next to Egyptian army soldiers securing the surrounding area of the Syrian embassy in Cairo on Tuesday.

AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

More than half a year into a popular uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has already claimed 2,900 lives, Syrian activists say that the killing of one more at the hands of regime assassins is invigorating their cause.

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Tens of thousands of Syrians protested the death on Friday of Mashaal Tammo, a member of the newly formed opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and a leader of the Kurdish Future Party. The momentum may help galvanize Syrians who seek to topple Mr. Assad, following in the steps of the Arab people-power revolutions that have ousted dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

"His blood will be like the light of a candle for the Syrian revolution," Abdelbasset Hamo told mourners at an Istanbul memorial ceremony via Skype from Germany, noting that Tammo's given name means "flame" in Arabic. "He is a symbol for all people of the Syrian revolution."

The regime has warned that Assad's fall could prompt civil war between Syria's diverse ethnic and religious groups. But activists say they are united across such lines and the death of Tammo – a proponent for such unity – will only strengthen their cause, in part by impelling even more of Tammo's fellow Kurds to join the opposition.

"By killing him, [the regime] will put oil on the fire, because Kurds are from the [northeast] border to the sea ... they will rise up and be very strong," said one university student activist who left Tammo's hometown of Qamishli for Turkey two weeks ago, and asked not to be named.

"He was an important person in Syria because he tried to combine all religious and ethnic groups," said the student, who knew Tammo and studied with his son. "He said: 'We are just Syrians, only Syrians; we must respect each other."

But Omar Shawaf, an exiled Syrian activist at the Istanbul ceremony, said the Assad regime has tried to prevent such unity.

"The regime has tried to play this game, so ethnic groups would fight each other," said Mr. Shawaf at the ceremony Saturday, where echoes of the killing in Syria's remote northeastern corner could be felt.

"This dirty regime will not keep quiet until they destroy the country and create a civil war," said Shawaf, as exiled Syrian activists sat quietly in their grief.

The killing of Tammo, a vocal critic of Assad, prompted mass protests across Syria on Sunday. Opposition groups said five people died during the funeral in Qamishli on Saturday, with handfuls more since then in daily protests across the country.

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