Syrian Ulemas said the International Union of Muslim Ulema’ statement targets Syria’s safety and stability and is inconsistent with the scientific and logical methods in judgment.

Protests gripped the central city of Homs, and continued in several other cities and towns around the country. Following the deaths of a number of protesters in Homs on Sunday night, thousands gathered in Clock Square in the centre of the city and staged a sit-in which was violently dispersed by security forces resulting in a number of injuries and some unconfirmed reports of fatalities, according to the Arab Times newspaper. However Syrian TV channels reported that security forces did not try to approach the protestors. The government maintains that “armed criminal gangs” are behind the deaths as SANA, the state news agency, reported yesterday. Several newspapers published graphic images of soldiers shot and later mutilated by these gangs.

Foreign minister, Walid al-Mu’allem, met with a group of foreign ambassadors on Monday where he said Syria will go ahead with reforms as promised but reiterated the government’s line that “sabotage” will not be tolerated. “We believe that those who want reform express their opinion peacefully from the basis that this reform is a national necessity… those who want reform do not use violence and weapons and do not resort to vandalism, burning state establishments and blocking roads,” al-Mu’allem said. He also expressed surprise at fatwas (religious rulings) issued by Islamic leaders outside Syria, and said: “those who issue these fatwas should know that Syria is proud of its national unity and its secular, pan-Arab course and adherence to national standards.”

Meanwhile a statement released by the International Union of Muslim Ulema (religious leadership) criticising the Syrian government was rejected in a statement by Syrian Islamic leaders, SANA reported. "The solutions proposed by President al-Assad are not partial, as the statement claims; the solutions are, however, radical, including the laws of parties, emergency, media and local administration…they are not mere promises in light of the time frame set to implement them,’” the statement read. “Subversive attempts can never weaken the determination of the Syrian people, and constant targeting of Syria is testimony to its firm stances.”

The interior ministry backed up the foreign minister’s claims in a statement describing the wave of unrest as an “insurrection” and the work of “armed groups belonging to Salafist organisations” who are trying to terrorise the population. Salafism is a strict form of Islam which many Arab governments equate with banned militant groups. The statement also urged Syrians to inform the authorities of the “whereabouts of terrorists and suspects and not allow them to exploit the freedom atmosphere to shed blood and corrupt public and private properties.”

In other news, protesters during a sit-in in front of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Damascus demanded an official apology and an end to “sedition” and “fact-twisting”. The Qatar-based channel has come under increased criticism for what the government and some Syrians say is biased coverage of recent events. Al-Jazeera has come under fire for its coverage of the uprisings in Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere. On March 25 several hundred Syrians gathered outside the Damascus bureau and threatened to storm the building and burn it down. Since protests began in Syria, neither Arab nor international media have been allowed open access to any of the areas where protests have taken place.

UPDATE: SANA is reporting the new cabinet led by Adel Safar has approved three draft laws which will do away with the Supreme State Security Court (a court run by the Ba’ath Party where few internationally recognised legal norms apply), lift the state of emergency in place since 1963, and legislate for peaceful demonstrations. At present no law exists to regulate public protests.
Syria Today (Syria)