Throngs of protesters turned out Friday to test Syria's unraveling peace plan once again, but U.N. observers stayed in.
The handful of observers already on the ground are trying to help ensure that the Syrian government and rebels hold to an agreement to halt hostilities and guarantee freedom to assemble peacefully. Syrians have greeted the observers eagerly in many towns, crowding around their vehicles.
Yet the observers were staying off the streets Friday, using the day instead to regroup, deal with logistics and plan for more patrols the next day.
"I don’t think they were going to do any patrols today being that it's Friday and the protests that are planned," said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. “Having them on the streets always changes the dynamics. It either gets more violent or less violent.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that the Syrian government had failed to honor the peace plan so far. Opposition activists claimed that troops had fired bullets and tear gas at protesters and shelling had continued on Friday, killing at least 50 people.
"We are giving the Annan initiative a chance and we are complying, but we are being killed," one Syrian opposition activist reached via Skype in the Hama countryside said, speaking anonymously for his safety.
Official Syrian media accuses armed terrorists of breaking the truce. The Syrian Arab News Agency reported "more breaches" of the peace plan on Friday, including a roadside bomb that killed 10 security officials near the Israel border and a sniper attack killing a police officer in Hama.
The video above, uploaded to YouTube and spread by opposition activists, purports to show defiant protesters Friday in the town of Hama chanting in support of the rebels as the sounds of shots ring out nearby. The Times cannot confirm the authenticity of the footage.
As the protests continue Friday, here are five more glimpses of what is reported to be happening in Syria, as seen through amateur video. The footage below, purportedly filmed in the Damascus suburb of Arbaeen, shows a rally where protesters dance amid drumbeats and cheers:
The following clip, purportedly filmed at a protest in the Idlib town of Hass, shows two demonstrators holding a banner in English that reads: "U.N. members need help, Turkey army need help. So who will help us?" The protesters wave Syrian flags that predate the ruling Baath party:
The next video is said to be shot in the Homs neighborhood of Khalidiyeh on Friday. "Violent shelling on the neighborhood," says the cameraman amid sounds of heavy bombardment and gunfire. "Where are the international observers, where is the Security Council? They are not coming to Homs," he says toward the end of the clip as plumes of thick black smoke rise:
This clip purports to show tear gas at a rally in the Damascus suburb of Qadam on Friday:
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles