Syrian security forces killed five people in the city of Homs yesterday, activists and a resident said, a day after the government agreed to pull the military out of cities as part of an Arab League initiative to end unrest.
After seven months of street protests demanding the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a nascent armed insurgency against his rule, Syria agreed on Wednesday to an Arab League plan to withdraw the army from cities, release political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition.
Assad’s critics have dismissed his past offers of dialogue as insincere, saying the killing must stop before any meaningful talks can take place. The main opposition National Council has not commented on Syria’s acceptance of the Arab League plan.
However, Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun, one of the council’s leading figures, questioned whether it would be implemented.
“The regime has accepted the Arab initiative out of fear of Arab isolation, its weakness and lack of options, but its acceptance does not mean it will respect its clauses,” Ghalioun wrote on his Facebook page.
In Syria, residents and activists said there were no signs so far of any troop pullout and security operations continued.
In Homs, tanks fired heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns in Bab Amro, a hotbed of protests and the scene of operations by the military against insurgents hiding there.
Activists named two civilians killed in the bombardment. A rubbish truck driver was among three others killed elsewhere in the city of 1 million, where army snipers were shooting from rooftops and soldiers fired from checkpoints.
“We slept late because there were overnight street rallies celebrating the Arab initiative. This morning we woke up to rain and shelling,” Samer, an activist in Bab Amro, said by telephone.
Activists and residents reported army reinforcements at roadblocks in towns across the southern Hauran Plain, where troops fired in the air to disperse overnight protests.
Early in the morning, an armored column fired machine guns in the air after entering al-Madiq castle near the Roman ruins of Apamea in the Ghab Plain, which has seen protests and has emerged as a refuge for army defectors, local activists said.
In the Damascus suburb of Harasta, at least 120 protesters were arrested overnight after celebrating the Arab League deal, a resident said.
Tough Syrian media restrictions have made it hard to verify events on the ground since an uprising against Assad began in March, inspired by other revolts in the Arab world.
The Arab plan calls for Syria to allow journalists, as well as Arab League monitors, into the country.
Assad has said security forces are battling Islamist militants and armed gangs, who the authorities say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police. The UN says the crackdown on demonstrations has killed more than 3,000 people.
Western sanctions and growing criticism from Turkey and Arab neighbors have raised pressure on Syria to end the bloodshed.
“We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately,” said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country leads an Arab League committee behind the plan agreed in Cairo.
China, which along with Russia has resisted imposing UN sanctions on Syria, welcomed the Arab League plan.