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Syria street protests met with force

On a day when U.N. monitors are missing, Syria government forces try to prevent demonstrations, firing on protesters in some cases, activists say. Continued shelling and at least 57 deaths are reported.

April 21, 2012|By Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • Homes lie in ruins in the Syrian town of Taftnaz, reportedly a result of shelling by government forces.
Homes lie in ruins in the Syrian town of Taftnaz, reportedly a result of shelling… (AFP/Getty Images )

BEIRUT — Large antigovernment demonstrations filled the streets of Syria on Friday despite reports of regime forces trying to prevent them from forming and, in other instances, shooting at protesters as an announced cease-fire continued to unravel.

Activists said security forces fired bullets and tear gas at protesters in several areas across the country, ignoring the government's agreement to a peace plan that guarantees the right to demonstrate. Shelling also continued in Homs province, and at least 57 people were reported killed across the country.

State media reported that a roadside bomb in a village near the border with Israel killed 10 law enforcement personnel, and two other people were killed elsewhere in the country. The attacks constituted more "breaches" of the peace plan by the opposition, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

But United Nations observers who are in Syria to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire and peace plan were nowhere to be seen because the team has decided not to patrol on Fridays, which is the biggest day of demonstrations.

"Having them on the streets always changes the dynamics," said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the U.N.'s special envoy, Kofi Annan. "It either gets more violent or less violent."

The head of the U.N. team, Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche, told Al Jazeera TV network, "We don't want to be used as a tool for escalating the situation."

The decision to limit its monitoring risks undermining the U.N. mission and its ability to quell violence in the 13-month uprising, especially after the team came under fire at a protest in a suburb of the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday and two people were reported killed in Dara minutes after the monitors left.

There were only seven monitors in the country Friday, and two more are expected to arrive Monday, Fawzi said. He said he hoped to have 30 of the U.N. observers by next week. The monitors are being pulled from other missions in the region and are being sent as soon as they can be released, he said.

It was not clear when the U.N. Security Council would take up the resolution proposed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a full supervision mission of 300 monitors. A larger mission isn't expected to arrive in Syria for weeks, Fawzi said.

Meanwhile, the situation in the country continues to slide back to where it was before the cease-fire, especially in places where the monitors have yet to visit, such as Homs, Hama and Idlib.

"We hope that they will be better than the Arab monitors," said an activist in a suburb of Hama, referring to an earlier Arab League effort. "I don't know what the international community is offering. We are giving the initiative a chance and we are complying, but we are being killed."

In the town of Qusair in Homs province, a spontaneous demonstration was held amid continued bombardment, with two shells falling every minute and several residents being killed, activists said. Across the province, activists reported 21 deaths.

"Where are the international observers, where is the Security Council?" asked one activist in a video said to have been shot Friday in Homs. "They are not coming to Homs."

Sandels is a special correspondent.

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