Protests and a sweet 'taste of freedom' in Syria [Video]
Throngs of Syrian protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad took to the streets Friday after prayers, even as reports of gunfire, shelling and arrests continued.
In the video above, purportedly taken in the town of Binnish on Friday, protesters clap and beat drums as others hold up pieces of cardboard that make up a giant banner condemning Assad with the words, "Oppression, corruption, despotism, demolition" in Arabic and English.
When the protesters flip the placards, the banner switches to read, "Toward a modern society that is more developed and sensible" -- a slogan accompanied by white doves and "Free Syria" in Arabic.
Unlike last week, when United Nations monitors sent to Syria to monitor its peace plan avoided the Friday protests, saying they might worsen the violence, observers went to several hot spots.
Two monitors were sent to the opposition stronghold of Dara, two went to Homs and two to Hama, said Neeraj Singh, a spokesman for the observers. Fifteen observers are now in the country, a force eventually expected to grow to 300.
"The military observers are all out in the field," Singh said in an email. "They are maintaining presence in their respective areas and carrying out their activities.”
Despite the peace plan, opposition activists claimed that government troops opened fire on demonstrations in several areas, including the towns of Deir Ezzor, Taseel and the Zahira neighborhood of Damascus.
In the Damascus suburb of Harasta, electricity was cut off, snipers were stationed on rooftops and troops were out in force to stop people from leaving mosques to protest, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist network.
Meanwhile, Syrian state media blamed "terrorists" -- the usual government term for the rebels -- for a devastating explosion in Damascus that was reported to have killed at least nine people.
Here are three more glimpses of what is reported to be happening in Syria, as seen through amateur video. Such videos, uploaded to YouTube and shared by opposition activists, are sometimes disputed by the Syrian regime. The Times could not confirm the events shown.
The video below purports to show protesters rallying Friday in the town of Kafr Nabil. One banner says in English, "If you wanna get rid of the terrorism worldwide, hit Assad regime to save the world thousands of dirty minds." A man with a megaphone chants, "Oh, revolution, revolution, Syria, Syria, Syria":
The next video is said to show the opening of a "revolutionary ice cream shop" in Binnish on Thursday, named "Taste of Freedom Ice Cream Shop." Children and adults eat ice cream amid clapping, chanting and drumbeats. Elated, some people even dance on chairs:
This last video purports to show military reinforcements Friday in the Damascus neighborhood of Barze:
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles