| 04.11,11. 10:28 PM |
Peace Deal Doubts Mount as Syria Death Toll Rises
Syrian troops killed five civilians in protest centers on Friday as demonstrators took to the streets nationwide to test the regime's readiness to honor its commitments under an Arab peace deal.
Washington had already warned that the signs were not encouraging after troops killed 20 civilians on Thursday -- the first day the hard-won agreement aimed at ending nearly eight month of bloodshed came into effect.
It said it expected the Arab League to take action if Damascus failed to deliver on its promises to halt all violence against civilians and withdraw its troops from cities, such as Homs, which have been at the center of unprecedented protests against President Bashar Assad's regime.
Troops opened fire from tanks in several residential neighborhoods of Homs, a city of some one million people that has been one of the main focuses of the protests raging since mid-March, a human rights group said.
"Two people were killed, one of them a woman, when the Baba Amro neighborhood was raked with heavy machinegun fire," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement received by Agence France Presse in Nicosia.
Troops also opened fire in the city's Ghuta neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding four, as they tried to disperse a demonstration, the Britain-based watchdog added.
In the town of Kanaker, outside the capital, troops opened fire as protesters gathered after the main weekly Muslim prayers, killing one demonstrator and wounding five, the Observatory said.
Troops also opened fire on demonstrators in the city of Deir al-Zour in Syria's oil-rich tribal east, the watchdog said.
In the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, security forces surrounded a major mosque in the city center and beat up worshippers as they attempted to demonstrate after the prayers.
"The security forces arrested dozens of people in the town, including four children closely related to Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman," the watchdog said.
"The children were detained from their homes and were not present at the demonstrations," it said.
Video footage posted on YouTube showed dozens of demonstrators, some of them masked, marching through the historic Midan neighborhood of the capital ahead of the noon prayers, chanting anti-Assad slogans.
Another demonstration was held in Harasta just outside Damascus, demanding that the pan-Arab bloc accept that Assad had no intention of keeping his word.
"How long is the Arab League going to listen to this liar," said a placard held up by one of the protesters.
"He said he accepted the Arab plan but the result has been the deaths of 500 martyrs, the arrests of more 2,000 people and the tanks are still rolling through the streets."
Two more people were killed, one of them an army deserter, when troops opened fire on a group of people trying to slip across the border into Jordan, the Observatory said.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organize protests on the ground, had called on Syrians to take to the streets across the country on Friday, to show the world whether the Assad regime was really prepared to end a crackdown that the U.N. says has left more than 3,000 people dead since mid-March.
Syrians should stage "peaceful protests" to "validate whether armed forces ... have been withdrawn from the cities and towns, and whether violence has been stopped, detainees have been released, Arab and international media correspondents have been allowed in the country and if a dialogue has been made possible," the protest organizers said.
There has been enormous skepticism among opponents about the regime's readiness to call off its troops and enter meaningful negotiations as it promised under the peace deal unveiled at an Arab foreign ministers' meeting on Wednesday.
"We told the secretary general of our fears that the regime will not keep its promises," Samir al-Nashar, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, said after being briefed by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Thursday.
The doubt was echoed by Washington after Thursday's bloodshed.
"We have not seen any evidence that the Assad regime intends to live up to the commitments that it's made," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"We will predict that, if he (Assad) doesn't meet his promises to the Arab League, the Arab League is going to feel that they had promises made, promises broken, and they're going to have to react," Nuland added.