REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Government troops opened fire Friday on demonstrators across Syria, killing at least 20 people, activists said. The opposition called the attacks a continuing violation of a fragile Arab League peace plan agreed to only two days go
There was no immediate response from the Syrian government, which has blamed the violence on "armed groups" and "terrorists" encouraged by foreigners.
Despite cold weather and rain, thousands of protesters in various locales took to the streets after midday Friday prayers to denounce President Bashar Assad. Opposition activists calling for his ouster had urged people to turn out Friday to test whether the government was abiding by the terms of an Arab League-brokered peace plan.
The accord calls for, among other things, an immediate halt to violence, a complete withdrawal of troops from cities and the release of political prisoners. The Syrian government has said it would comply.
But residents and activists said security personnel again fired on protesters.
"Security forces and army positioned in the area and started firing on demonstrations, leading to injuries and martyrs," said Salem, an opposition activist in the central city of Homs.
Like other opposition activists contacted in Syria on Friday, he declined to give his full name for security reasons.
The Syrian opposition umbrella Local Coordination Committees said eight people were killed in Homs. The group said protesters marched in suburban Damascus; in Aleppo, the nation’s second city; in the eastern city of Dair Alzour, and the southern province of Dara, among other areas. In Rastan, near Homs, more than two dozen people were arrested in a security sweep after a protest, the group said.
Two people were reported killed in the opposition stronghold of Hama, where a resident said members of the security forces and pro-regime militia attacked at least one protest. “They are firing directly at crowds," said the resident, who gave his name as Saif.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television, quoting the Interior Ministry, said Friday that "insurgents" would be granted amnesty if they turned themselves in and handed over their weapons within the next few days.
"The Interior Ministry calls on citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes, to hand themselves into the nearest police station," news reports quoted state TV as saying.
Opposition activists predicted that few would turn themselves in. One resident of Homs called the proposed amnesty "one big lie."
Amateur video on YouTube showed what was said to be a large crowd of demonstrators in Sanamein, near Dara,in southern Syria, chanting and jumping up and down in front of a huge poster saying “Liar” in Arabic, in a clear reference to the Syrian president.
Video from another protest in Idlib broadcast on pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera showed demonstrators holding signs saying "the Syrian regime is expired" in Arabic and the "Syrian regime breaks its promises."
-- Alexandra Sandels and Katie Paul in Beirut
Photo: A frame grab from a video on YouTube purportedly showing an antigovernment protest in Sanamein in southern Syria on Friday. Credit: YouTube.
Video credit: YouTube