Syrian troops fire on protesters in fresh violence

 

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets across the
nation in the largest protests in months, shouting for the
downfall of the regime in a defiant display invigorated by the presence
of Arab observers, activists said.

Despite the presence of the monitors, activists said Syrian forces killed at least 19 people, most of them shot during anti-government protests.

Rami Abdul-Raham, who heads the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the crowds were largest Friday in Idlib and Hama provinces, with 250,000 people each. Other massive rallies were held in Daraa province and the Damascus suburb of Douma, he said.

The ongoing violence in Syria, and new questions about the human rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a ploy by President Bashar Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

There is broad concern about whether Arab League member states, with some of the world's poorest human rights records, were fit for the mission to monitor compliance with a plan to end to the crackdown on political opponents by security forces. The United Nations says some 5,000 people have been killed in the government campaign since March.

One of Assad's few remain allies, Russia, voiced its approval of the observer mission so far, saying the situation was "reassuring." At the same time, a group of dissident soldiers who joined the opposition announced it has halted attacks on regime troops since the observers arrived in a bid to avoid fueling government claims that it is facing armed "terrorists" rather than peaceful protesters.

Despite skepticism over the Arab League mission, it has energized the protest movement, with tens of thousands turning out this week in cities and neighborhoods where the observers are expected to visit.

The huge rallies have been met by lethal gunfire from security forces, apparently worried about multiple mass sit-ins modeled after Cairo's Tahrir Square. In general, activists say, security forces have launched attacks when observers were not present. But there have been some reports of firing on protesters while the monitors were close by.

The Local Coordination Committees, an activist coalition, said at least 130 people, including six children, have been killed in Syria since the Arab observers began their one-month mission on Tuesday.

The nearly 100 Arab League monitors are the first Syria has allowed in during the uprising, which began in March. They are supposed to ensure the regime complies with terms of the League plan to end President Bashar Assad's crackdown on dissent.

The plan, which Syria agreed to on Dec. 19, demands that the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks with the opposition and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. It also calls for the release of all political prisoners.

Pro-Assad groups turned out for rallies in Damascus and several other cities, waving portraits of the president, in an apparent bid to show the regime has public support during the observer visit. On Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said an initial assessment by Arab League observers in Syria was "reassuring." Moscow is one of Syria's few remaining allies following more than nine months of violence.

"Moscow appraises with satisfaction the real beginning of the Arab League activities in Syria," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry noted that the Sudanese general who heads the mission visited the restive city of Homs.

"The situation there is reassuring, clashes have not been recorded," the statement said.

Also Friday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it has stopped its offensive against government targets during a month-long mission by Arab Legue monitors, saying it wants to expose how the regime is killing peaceful protesters.

The leader of the FSA, breakaway air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, said his troops have halted attacks since the observers arrived. The government insists terrorists and gangs are driving nine months of crisis in Syria.

"We stopped to show respect to Arab brothers, to prove that there are no armed gangs in Syria, and for the monitors to be able to go wherever they want," al-Asaad told The Associated Press by telephone from his base in Turkey.

"We only defend ourselves now. This is our right and the right of every human being," he said, adding that his group will resume attacks after the observers finish their mission.

The Free Syrian Army says it is comprised of some 15,000 army defectors who abandoned the regime during the uprising. The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on government installations that have killed scores of soldiers and members of the security forces.

On Friday, activists said security forces fired on protesters in the southern province of Daraa, Hama province in central Syria and elsewhere. In the central city of Homs, six people who were reported missing Thursday were confirmed dead Friday.

Another four were reported killed in the town of Talkalakh, near the border with Lebanon, in an ambush by government troops. It was not immediately clear why they were killed as the victims were not believed to be protesting at the time, activists said.

In total, 19 people were reported killed Friday.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday expressed concern that violence was continuing in Syria despite the presence of the monitors.

She said the monitors were providing "some space for public expression," citing videos on YouTube of a large democracy rally in Idlib, but insisted that Assad's regime needed to do more.

"It's not only a matter of deploying the monitors," she added. "It's a matter of the Syrian government living up to its commitments to withdraw heavy weapons from the cities; to stop the violence everywhere, which clearly has not happened; to release all political prisoners."

AP

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child