Syrians brace for unrest in view of monitors

An undated photo, posted on Facebook, of an anti-regime demonstration in Kafartkharem, Syria.
Local Coordination Committees in Syria
An undated photo, posted on Facebook, of an anti-regime demonstration in Kafartkharem, Syria.
Local Coordination Committees in Syria

DAMASCUS - Syria braced for further unrest on Friday - typically a day of mass anti-government protests - in apparent bids to show Arab monitors the full picture of the violence on the ground and whether the government was upholding a commitment to end a nine-month crackdown which the U.N. says has killed more than 5,000 people.

The opposition has already urged demonstrators via a Facebook page to "creep and crawl" into the main squares in the country "immediately after Friday's prayers," particularly in cities and neighborhoods where the observers are expected to visit.

"On Friday, we will march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested, carrying olive branches only, although we are sure we will be confronted by regime's gun fire," activists said.

The presence of monitors should "motivate" Syrians to take to the streets in large numbers and camp out in squares despite "foreseeable violence," protest organizers said.

Facebook: Local Coordination Committees in Syria
Facebook: Solidarity with Syrian Uprising

Opposition groups earlier in the day already announced that Syrian security forces opened "intensive fire" on a gathering protesting outside Al-Qaddam mosque in a Damascus suburb. It also said authorities lay siege upon a mosque in Daraya, and clashed with tens of thousands of protesters near the Grand Mosque in Douma just north of the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that security forces shot dead 10 people in Damascus province, six in the central city of Hama, five in Idlib province, 11 more in Homs and one in Latakia, as Arab League observers expanded their mission across the country.

State-run TV, however, aired live pro-regime rallies with thousands of people in the main squares in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia and Tartous.

Marchers carried Syrian flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in a huge show of solidarity.

"Allah (God), Syria and Bashar only," yelled one demonstrator from Daraa, the cradle of the unrest which began in March, when protesters - emboldened by democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt - called for open elections and an increase in political freedoms.

The Arab League mission, which started on Tuesday, is part of a plan (endorsed by Syria on November 2) which calls for the withdrawal of security forces from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians, and the release of detainees.

General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, a veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer who is heading the observer mission, has said the visit to Homs, Syria's third largest city - about 160 kilometers north of the capital - was "good" and that Syrian authorities were cooperating so far.

Syria's acceptance of observers - a major concession by a hardline government after weeks of delays - came after a warning from Arab leaders that they would turn to the U.N. Security Council for action to try and end a crackdown that the U.N. said has killed at least 5,000 people, raising fears the country of 22 million is slipping toward civil war.

The government blames the violence on "armed terrorist" groups which have already killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

Last Friday, two suicide car bombings in Damascus killed 44 people and left more than 150 injured. Syrian officials blamed al Qaeda for being behind the "terror" attack.

France, the United States and Human Rights Watch have warned Damascus against trying to hide the facts from the monitors. Paris charged that the team was not being allowed to see what was happening in Homs.

The observers will have a one-month mandate that can be extended by another month if both sides agree.