A fragile day-old ceasefire in Syria showed signs of breaking yesterday amid reports that security forces fired on peaceful protesters who took to the streets in their thousands to call for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
From Deraa in the south, the birthplace of the uprising, to the suburbs of the capital Damascus and Idlib in the north, videos posted online showed determined Syrians braving a bolstered security presence to take to the streets with the hope that a UN-brokered ceasefire would protect them from attack.
However, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote last night on a resolution to authorise the deployment of observers to monitor the shaky truce, reports of violations trickled in.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activist groups, claimed that government forces had used live ammunition at 31 different locations across the country, killing at least five people. At least two died and dozens were wounded when the army opened fire on a demonstration in central Hama, according to Mousab Alhamadee, a local resident.
"The protesters were trying to move towards the main square in Hama when the army started to shoot from a checkpoint," he told The Independent. "They used live bullets and tear gas. There is no ceasefire, just a little less killing."
Two others were reported killed after Friday prayers in Nawa, a town near Deraa, and another in Idlib. There were also accounts of a car ramming into demonstrators at a funeral in Damascus. In Homs, six mortars were fired into the Qarabees neighbourhood, according to activists, who complained that the security forces were trying to provoke a reaction from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Syria has been accused of only partially abiding by the terms of the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan, under which regime forces were required to pull out from population centres by Tuesday. As tanks remain on the streets, much of the international community is wary of President Assad's commitment.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday called for the creation of aid corridors "so that these poor people who are being massacred can escape a dictator". He added: Sadly I do not believe this ceasefire."
The swift deployment of monitors is considered essential to any lasting truce, and the Security Council was expected to approve a resolution last night which would allow an advance team of up to 30 observers to be deployed. About 250 are expected to follow, although diplomatic sources have indicated that it may be as many as 500. However, some have questioned the impact they can have in a country of more than 20 million which is seeing such widespread unrest.
Despite the reports of violence yesterday, some activists said the security forces showed restraint. Al Qusayr, a town near Homs that has seen intense shelling, saw one of yesterday's larger demonstrations, with organisers estimating that about 5,000 turned up. Footage showed the crowd chanting, "All Arabs have abandoned us, only God is with us" as they waved the old triple-starred flag of the Syrian Republic.
Rami Kamel, a local activist, said: "We left when the army shot into the air. They weren't shooting into the crowd. It was a warning to scare us into leaving."