World Bulletin/News Desk
Syrian dignitaries buried a pro-government cleric at the capital's ancient Ummayyad Mosque on Saturday, choosing a site near the famous Muslim warrior Saladin and sparking outrage among Syrian opposition activists.
Mohammed al-Buti, the government-appointed imam of the ancient Ummayyed Mosque, died in a Thursday night bomb attack on a neighbourhood mosque that also killed at least 49 others.
The 84-year-old cleric had been considered a scholarly figure with standing throughout the Arab world, but became controversial when he threw his weight behind President Bashar al-Assad in the country's two-year-old revolt.
Syrian officials buried Buti on grounds beside the tomb of the Saladin, heralded as a heroic warrior in Islam for pushing back the Crusaders in the 12th century. The Ummayyad Mosque is Islam's third most important landmark.
The funeral, held with tight state security that blocked roads and caused traffic jams across Damascus, highlights regional political divisions created by Syria's two-year conflict. The uprising, which began as peaceful protests, has devolved into a brutal civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.
The Umayed Mosque is home to a rich tradition of Islamic scholarship.
Opposition activists voiced anger on social media at the decision to bury Buti beside Saladin's tomb.
"Burying Buti next to Saladin is a deliberate insult," activist Waleed al-Akrat wrote on his Twitter page.
"Oh, Saladin. Forgive us. We are sorry," wrote another activist, who goes by the alias Syria Mubasher.
Video from the funeral, broadcast live on state television, showed crowds of men carrying his white-draped casket into the mosque.
Buti was assassinated on Thursday evening while delivering his weekly religious lecture at a neighbourhood mosque in central Damascus, in an attack state media labelled a "terrorist suicide bombing".
Rebel groups denied responsibility for the bombing, arguing they would never attack a mosque.
Before Buti, the current head of the opposition's National Syrian Coalition, Moaz Alkhatib, was the Imam of Ummayed Mosque. Alkhatib was toppled from that post and imprisoned in 2011 when he voiced support for the protests, and later was exiled.
Alkhatib said in a statement on his Facebook page that only the regime could have been behind Buti's death, but also stressed the importance that places of worship and clerics not be attacked despite political differences with the opposition.
"The killing of Doctor al-Buti is a crime in every sense of the word," he wrote. "No matter the differences that clerics in Syria may have in their view of the situation, this does not allow for the merciless killing of Muslims or the defilement of mosques."Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Mart 2013, 17:32