Fragile ceasefire holds in Syria

 

Tens of thousands of Syrians
poured into the nation's streets today for anti-government protests,
activists said, in the first major test of a fragile UN-brokered truce.

Security forces used live fire, tear gas and beat some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of widescale shelling, sniper attacks or other potential violations of the ceasefire.

However, at least three protesters were shot dead by security forces, activists said.

President Bashar Assad's regime has cracked down on protest rallies in the past and earlier suggested it would not allow them to resume today, insisting protesters needed to seek permission first.

Syrian forces tightened security in public squares and outside mosques.

A major outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give government forces a pretext for ending the peace plan, which aims to calm a year-old uprising that has killed 9,000 people and pushed the country towards civil war.

The truce is at the centre of international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan to stop the bloodshed and launch talks on a political transition. A 13-month uprising against Assad had become increasingly violent in response to his brutal crackdown.

Mr Annan's spokesman said the plan had been "relatively respected" despite the continued presence of government troops and heavy weapons in population centres. Ahmad Fawzi said an advance team of UN observers is poised to enter Syria if the Security Council gives the green light later today.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy said the Syrian regime must be closely monitored. "I don't believe Bashar Assad is sincere," he told French television station i-Tele. "I don't believe in the ceasefire, sadly. I believe - and it's what I was discussing with Barack Obama yesterday - that at the very least, observers must be sent to find out what's happening."

Earlier today, Syrian troops fought with rebels near the border with Turkey, and other scattered violence was reported.

Tight security measures, including widespread deployment of plain-clothes agents of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence service, prevented large-scale marches in the Syrian capital, said Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami. He said many regime opponents chanted anti-government slogans inside mosques, but were unable to take the marches outside due to the heavy security presence.

"The big security campaign succeeded in limiting the size of the protests," Mr al-Shami said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that tens of thousands of protesters calling for Assad's removal marched in cities and towns across Syria.

The Observatory said one marcher was killed in the opposition stronghold of Hama as he and others tried to reach the main Assi Square, which protesters occupied for several weeks last year. Two others were killed and 11 wounded in the southern town of Nawa when protesters came under fire from security forces as they gathered in the central square, said area activist Adel al-Omari.

The grassroots Local Co-ordination Committees, another activist group, said that across Syria, at least seven protesters were killed by troops today. It was impossible to confirm casualty tolls because the country is largely sealed off from journalists.

In Damascus, troops and pro-government militiamen known as Shabiha surrounded a mosque in the Qadam neighbourhood and beat people staging a protest inside the house of worship, said the LCC. In another Damascus neighbourhood, Barzeh, demonstrators called for the downfall of the regime, the LCC said. In Aleppo, troops fired tear gas at marchers gathering outside the Grand Mosque, the group said.

Fadi al-Yassin, an activist who took part in a protest in a town in the northern province of Idlib, said about 6,000 people participated, including women and children. Protesters dispersed peacefully after the march and troops did not open fire at them, said Mr al-Yassin, who did not want to name the location, for fear of government reprisals.

The truce, the first brokered by the international community since the Syria crisis erupted in March 2011, calls for the Syrian government to allow peaceful protests.

The Syrian government has broken promises in the past and so far ignored a key provision of Mr Annan's plan to pull troops back to barracks. Opposition leaders say Assad doesn't want to ease the clampdown because that would unleash protesters to flood the streets and escalate the movement to bring down the president.

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world