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December 2011, Week 5

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[See also Al Jazeera's video report from Syria:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuxV2_kx-WI -- moderator]

Clashes Erupt as Protests Spread Across Syria

     At least 32 reported killed in fighting between
     security forces and demonstrators as thousands
     rally against Assad.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/12/201112301351830614.html
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2011 03:40

At least 32 people have been reported killed during
fresh protests against the Syrian government, as
hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded streets
across the country.

Activists said the deaths on Friday came as protesters,
emboldened by the presence of Arab League observers in
the country, took to the streets after noon Muslim
prayers.

The UK-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory said more
than half a million people turned out for the largest
demonstrations in months.

Al Jazeera's Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Beirut in
neighbouring Lebanon, said the demonstrations were
taking place in 18 different provinces across Syria.



"One of the biggest demonstrations is near the capital,
Damascus. Activists have called on all residents to try
and reach the centre of their cities. In Damascus ...
they are being met by security forces who have used tear
gas, according to many of the residents nearby," she
said.

"We know that large demonstrations are also under way in
the city of Hama, [in] Homs, as well as [in] Idlib,
where we've seen images of observers themselves along
with the demonstrators in the midst of it all."

Omar Hamza, a witness to the clashes between security
forces and demonstrators in the Damascus suburb of Douma
on Friday, said government forces shot at protesters who
gathered at a mosque in the city.

"More than 100 people are injured right now," he told Al
Jazeera. "It is a very bad situation in Douma today."

Hesitant to speak

The violence comes as the Arab League observer team in
Syria continues its mission aimed at determining whether
President Bashar al-Assad is implementing a peace plan
to end the violence.

Our correspondent said protesters on Friday were eager
to show the observers the situation on the ground and
have their stories heard, but some residents were more
hesitant to speak.


"[The observers] are being followed by Syrian forces as
part of the agreement, so they are responsible for their
safety. So some residents don't feel they have the
freedom to speak in front of Syrian authorities in front
of the observers," she said.

Syrian activists called on Thursday for the removal of
the head of the Arab League monitoring team in a new
blow to the credibility of the mission.

The opposition has condemned the observers' presence as
a farce to enable Assad to buy time and avoid more
international censure and sanctions.

The 60 Arab League monitors are the first set of
observers allowed in to the country during the nine-
month uprising.

Their remit is to ensure that the government is
complying with the terms of the regional bloc's plan to
end the crackdown on protests.

Activists doubtful

Syrian activists, however, doubt Arab monitors are
getting the access they need to be able to give a fair
assessment of the violence that the UN estimates has
left more than 5,000 people dead.

A member of the observer team told Al Jazeera the
situation in Syria was "very dangerous".

The official, who declined to be named, said there was
constant shelling in the city of Homs with some areas
under control of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group
of armed anti-government fighters.


Observers plan to visit protest hubs in the country
The source said he believed the Arab League mission was
certainly going to fail.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hadi Abdullah, an activist in
Homs, said that monitors witnessed the crackdown on
protests, but he was suspicious on how they would report
it.

"The observers saw a lot of violence in the city. They
saw how security forces shoot at protests. They also saw
the bodies of dead people," Abdullah said.

"The monitors also saw destruction in the city. One of
the observers asked residents of Bab Amr neighbourhood
‘How can you live in this place?'"

International diplomats from China, Russia and the US
have urged Syria's government to facilitate the observer
mission.

The Arab League plan, endorsed by Syria on November 2,
calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and
residential districts, a halt to violence against
civilians and the release of detainees.

The Syrian government says most of the violence has been
perpetrated by "armed terrorist groups" that are working
against the government.

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