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Fragile Syrian peace plan tested by Friday protests [Video]

April 13, 2012 | 10:52 am

Syrian protesters took to the streets Friday, testing the fragile peace plan that is supposed to guarantee Syrians the right to assemble and to stop both sides from firing their weapons. At the same time, the government and rebels accused each other of breaking the truce.

Yet, killings seem to have slowed, a possible sign of progress in the battered country. In the amateur video above, protesters are seen chanting "Freedom" in Arabic in the town of Hama. Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan, said the plan had been "relatively respected."

Opposition activists claimed that government forces had gunned down protesters in the cities of Dara, Idlib, Homs and Damascus and its outskirts, killing at least eight people. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said Syrian government forces had defied the truce in no fewer than 67 places, shelling or bombing several cities.

Syria's delegate to the United Nations, in turn, said that armed terrorists -- its usual term for the rebels -- had flouted the agreement eight times. Syrian state media reported several attacks, including an army major being shot in his car and rebels hurling dynamite at police patrols.

"It is not enough that the Syrian government shows full commitment ... but all sides have to stand by us clearly and unequivocally," U.N. representative Bashar Jaafari was quoted as saying by the Syrian Arab News Agency.

Clashes were also reported in the town of Khirbet Jouz near the Turkish border early Friday. An activist in Idlib claimed the army had stormed into the town, shooting and trying to instigate fighting.

"There was no shooting from the Free Syrian Army side; they are committed to the cease-fire," activist Alaa Al-Deen Al-Youssef said, referring to the armed rebels. No one was injured but the army was still occupying the town, he said.

Despite the violence, there were some signs of change: Some activists said regime forces had stood back as demonstrators beat drums and chanted slogans against the government, the Associated Press reported. Fewer deaths were reported than on past Fridays, the usual day of protest.

Halting hostilities was the heart of a plan brokered by Annan to try to quell the violence that has raged in Syria for more than a year, costing more than 10,000 lives. The U.N. Security Council is poised to send a team of observers to see whether the peace plan, delayed and feared to be on the rocks earlier this week, is being faithfully followed.

The sight of weapons still inside cities and towns dismayed diplomats. "They don’t belong there; they didn’t belong there in the first place, and they don’t belong there now," Fawzi said Friday.

Syrian dissidents and Western leaders have been skeptical of the truce, warning that President Bashar Assad could simply use it as a stalling tactic to continue killing. The Assad regime has been condemned by the United Nations for rampant human rights abuses during its crackdown on the uprising. Some of the rebels have also been accused of kidnappings and killings, documented by Human Rights Watch.

The amateur videos below, uploaded to YouTube by opposition activists, give a window into what is happening in Syria today. The Times cannot confirm the exact events shown because media access to Syria is restricted. The first video purports to show tear gas and gunshots aimed at a protest in Kanaker outside Damascus, where demonstrators chant in support of the Free Syrian Army:

This video, said to be from the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, purports to show demonstrators carrying banners saying "Revolution for all Syrians" as they chant, "Syria wants freedom":

This next clip is said to show marchers in Dumair outside Damascus rallying for Syrian unity. The caption says revolutionaries are coming out of the "mosques of freedom":

Smoke seen in this video is said to be the result of Friday shelling in Qarabid, Homs:

This video purports to show the army presence in the Qudsaya neighborhood of Damascus on Friday. Some of the men are wearing army uniforms and helmets and carry weapons:

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