Peace deal doubts mount as Syria death toll rises

AFP , Friday 4 Nov 2011

Arab league deal with the Syrian regime to stop violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, almost failed on Friday as the Syrian security forces open fire on civilians killing at least two people

Anti-government protesters attend the funeral of people in Hula near Homs (Reuters)

Syrian troops killed two civilians in the flashpoint city of Homs on Friday as activists called nationwide protests to test the regime's readiness to abide by its commitments under an Arab peace deal.

Washington warned that the signs were not encouraging that the government really intended to being an end to its deadly crackdown on dissent after troops killed 20 civilians on Thursday -- the first day the hard-won agreement 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 centre of unprecedented protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Troops opened fire from tanks in several residential neighbourhoods 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 Amr neighbourhood was raked with heavy machinegun fire," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

"Gunfire was also heard from other neighbourhoods of Homs," the Britain-based watchdog added, as protesters prepared to take to the streets across the country after the main weekly Muslim prayers.

Video footage posted on YouTube showed dozens of demonstrators, some of them masked, marching through the historic Midan neighbourhood 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 organise protests on the ground, 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 UN 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 organisers said.

"May ... Friday, be the day where all streets and squares become platforms for demonstrations and for the peaceful struggle towards achieving the downfall of the regime."

There has been enormous scepticism 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 were 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 have no evidence to indicate that they're withdrawing from anywhere at this stage,"she added.

"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 said.

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