Syrian security forces, undaunted by the presence of Arab League observers, have killed at least 12 protesters as hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said.
Five members of the security forces were also killed in a shooting in the city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.
Al-Assad, 46, has signed up to an Arab League plan for a verifiable withdrawal of his troops and heavy weaponry from towns and cities, where they have been trying to crush protests that have raged since March.
However, the presence of Arab League monitors in hotspots across Syria since Monday has, if anything, energized the protesters, while provoking scepticism in Western countries.
Demonstrators determined to show the scale of their movement to the monitors threw rocks at security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where troops tear-gassed the chanting crowds.
Five people were shot dead in the city of Hama and five in the city of Daraa as crowds braved army and police, the Observatory reported, adding that at least two dozen people had been injured in Douma.
“We are determined to show them [the monitors] we exist. Whether or not there’s bloodshed is not important,” an activist named Abu Khaled said by phone from the northern city of Idlib.
Most foreign media are banned from Syria and witness reports and videos are hard to verify.
An opposition supporter named Manhal said thousands had tried to reach the main square of Idlib to start a sit-in, but failed “because the security forces are firing a lot of tear gas and a few rounds of live fire.”
“People hoped the presence of monitors will prevent fierce attacks,” he said.
The Observatory said security forces had shot dead two people and wounded 37 in Idlib province.
Amateur video from Idlib showed monitors in white baseball caps and yellow safety vests wading through a sea of protesters.
Protesters flooded the streets of many towns, shouting: “Peaceful, peaceful,” and “The people want you executed, Bashar!”