Vast Syrian crowds demand Arab League observers' help

Emboldened protesters turn out in hundreds of thousands to put new pressure on Assad

Jerusalem

In the largest demonstrations for months, as many as a million Syrians poured on to the country's streets yesterday, determined to draw their plight to the attention of Arab League observers who some fear will turn a blind eye to atrocities by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The protesters who swarmed on to public squares and roads from the country's most northerly cities to its southern border towns appeared emboldened by the presence of up to 100 monitors.

About 250,000 demonstrated in the central province of Hama, with a similar number in Idlib, near the Turkish border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The organisation put the total number on the streets at nearly one million, in the biggest display of anti-government sentiment since at least July. In Homs, the city at the heart of the revolution, television footage showed dancing protesters chanting: "Revolution of glory and freedom Syria".

"This Friday is different from any other Friday. It is a transformative step. People are eager to reach the monitors and tell them about their suffering," said Abu Hisham, an activist in Hama.

But, even with the Arab League team present, the violence continued, and appeared to take a more sinister turn. The Observatory claimed to have spoken to two people injured when a nail bomb was used by security forces to disperse a 70,000-strong demonstration in the Damascus suburb of Duma.

Live rounds and tear gas were also reported to have been fired on the protesters. With press access in the country severely restricted, such reports are difficult to verify.

Five were reported to have been shot dead when security forces opened fire on protesters in the southern city of Deraa, and another five were killed in Hama, with a total of 20 dead in the clashes across the country, according to the human rights group. Five people were snatched by security forces in an overnight raid in Homs, it claimed.

The Syrian government had posted snipers on rooftops and deployed its forces at trouble spots after opposition groups called for mass demonstrations to mark the first Friday prayers of the Arab League mission.

The team is in Syria to verify the government's compliance with an Arab League plan to end the violent crackdown, which includes the removal of tanks from the streets.

Human rights groups have accused the government of hiding artillery from observers. Yesterday activists in Idlib said tanks had been concealed. "They have moved the tanks out of main streets," said a member of the opposition Local Co-ordination Committee.

Comments from the head of the monitoring group, the Sudanese general, Mohamed Mustafa al-Dabi, who said he saw "nothing frightening" during his visit to Homs this week, have raised concerns among the opposition.

"70,000 people were shot with tear gas as they approached Clock Square. How can you not see anything?" said Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

While the remarks by General Dabi met with disbelief in the West, the Russian foreign ministry yesterday described his statement as "reassuring".

The comments came as government forces opened fire on demonstrators after Friday prayers in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the southern city of Deraa and elsewhere. In an indication of the diminishing levels of confidence in the Arab League team, protesters in Damascus chanted: "The monitors are witnesses who don't see anything."

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

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said that violence was continuing. "It's not only a matter of deploying the monitors," she said. "It's a matter of the Syrian government living up to its commitments to withdraw heavy weapons from the cities and to stop the violence everywhere."

Meanwhile, the Turkey-based commander of the anti-government Free Syrian Army said he had ordered fighters to stop offensive operations pending a meeting with the monitors.

Colonel Riad al-Asaad said his forces had so far been unable to talk to them. "I issued an order to stop all operations from the day the committee entered Syria last Friday," Colonel Asaad said.

Arab League: The Observers

The Arab League mission in Syria descended into farce almost as soon as it began. Despite video footage showing Syrian forces continuing their bloody crackdown on protesters in Homs on Wednesday, the man overseeing the League's observation of the unrest described the situation as "calm", adding "there were no clashes".

Mustafa al-Dabi, a Sudanese general, was head of military intelligence following the 1989 coup led by Omar al-Bashir (subsequently accused of war crimes). It is alleged that General Dabi encouraged a brutal crackdown on rebels. He also cultivated Sudan's links with Syria.

Even as General Dabi spoke on Wednesday, the body of a child allegedly murdered by Assad's forces was placed on the bonnet of a white Arab League 4x4. He went on to say that there was "nothing frightening" in the town.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
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

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor