MINA, Saudi Arabia: Enraged Syrian pilgrims on Sunday cursed President Bashar al-Assad and prayed for his death as they hurled pebbles at pillars representing Satan in the final ritual of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Rebel flags billowed among vast crowds of Muslim pilgrims who heaved towards the stoning site in the Saudi holy city of Mina amid the chanting of anti-Assad slogans.
“Oh God, may we see Bashar al-Assad soon hanged or burnt, kicked out or a humiliated prisoner,” one Syrian yelled through a loudhailer as dozens walking behind him shouted: “Amen.”
"May Bashar follow (Moamer) Qadhafi," they chanted, referring to the Libyan dictator killed last October 20 in his home town of Sirte by rebels who rose up against his regime last year.
“Please tell the whole world about us. We are under siege in Syria, in Homs. They demolished our homes so we fled to Saudi Arabia,” said one old woman, tears welling.
“Tanks were right next to our house. I was alone with my daughter, so we fled.
“I want victory for Syria. I hope to see the free Syrian flag waving in the country and all refugees and all the homeless going back,” she added.
Syrian pilgrims were few at this year's hajj as the deadly civil war rages between the Assad regime and rebels that a rights group says has so far left more than 35,000 people dead.
Damascus has claimed that Riyadh barred Syrians from attending the hajj, but Saudi officials have repeatedly denied the allegation, claiming to have issued some 10,000 visas to Syrian refugees now in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Turkey, has supported the Syrian rebels with funds and arms in their fight against Assad's forces.
On Friday, the Imam of the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Saleh Mohammed al-Taleb, called on the world to take “practical and urgent” steps to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
“The world should bear responsibility for this prolonged and painful disaster, and responsibility is greater for the Arabs and Muslims who should call on each other to support the oppressed against the oppressor,” he said in his Eid Al-Adha sermon.
The official Syrian flag was mostly absent from this year's hajj, with most Syrians performing the pilgrimage brandishing the rebel standard instead.
Most of the Syrian pilgrims who joined the stoning rituals were either “residents of Saudi Arabia or they had entered the kingdom on visitor visas,”said Omar Noman, a Syrian group leader.
“Every one of us in this group has somehow suffered and had a relative killed or had a house destroyed. This is why we are cursing Bashar,” he said.
“God, they have broken our hearts, destroyed our mosques, and slaughtered our children. Take revenge on them!” another group of Syrians chanted as worshippers from other countries took pictures and expressed their support.
“Most people are praying for our freedom. We hope they mean it,” said Syrian pilgrim Haitham al-Rifaie.
Mohammed al-Masri, who headed another group, said the Syrian worshippers were performing hajj “for the souls of Syria's martyrs.”
"It's a way of supporting our brothers in Syria,” he said. “We can't do much from here. This is why we are performing hajj on their behalf."