Syrian forces open fire on protesters, killing 35, activists say
Any hope that the presence of Arab League observers in Syria might bring an end to the bloodshed all but evaporated Friday as opposition activists reported that security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters and clashes broke out with army defectors in a suburb of Damascus, the capital.
As many as 35 people were killed across the country, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of activists that organizes protests and reports on the violence. The dead included nine people in the central city of Hama and five in the southern city of Dara, both places where observers were said to be present.
Opposition activists have expressed growing frustration with the observer mission, which is in Syria to monitor compliance with a regional peace plan calling for the withdrawal of security forces from urban areas, the release of political prisoners and free access for journalists.
The activists say the Arab League team is too small and too easily mislead by the government, which is providing security and logistical support to the observers. The selection of a Sudanese general, who once headed a military intelligence branch accused of human rights abuse, has also raised concern.
Syrian officials insist they are implementing the peace plan.
Friday’s demonstrations appeared to be among the largest and most numerous in weeks. Syrian opposition groups urged their supporters to show their strength by retaking city and town squares from which they have been violently expelled since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March.