Middle East

Syria ceasefire: Security forces 'fire at protesters'

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Media captionActivist Mousab Hamdee on monitoring mission: "We don't want people to come and watch us dying"

Several people have been shot dead during protests in Syria, activists say, as the UN considers deploying monitors to oversee a peace plan.

Security forces fired into the air to disperse crowds in several locations. But in some, protesters were shot dead.

The demonstrations were seen as a major test of the ceasefire, in place since Thursday as part of UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace initiative.

The UN is expected to vote on a resolution on monitors on Saturday.

Diplomats in New York have worked out a revised text to the Security Council resolution, after disagreements between Russia and the US over the wording delayed a planned vote on Friday.

The text will be sent to governments for approval overnight, and a vote is now expected at 11:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Saturday.

Russia's permanent representative, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that he was not satisfied with the talks but would send the revised text to Moscow.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has authorised an increase in US aid for Syria's "non-violent, political opposition", including communications equipment and medical supplies, officials say.


In Syria, anti-government demonstrators poured out of mosques after Friday prayers in many areas, amid tight security precautions.

Image caption Activists published videos online showing large protests across Syria

Activists said security forces fired into the air in many places to prevent or disperse protests. But in others, protesters were killed by gunfire.

Two people were killed as demonstrators attempted to reach the main square in the central city of Hama, they added.

"We tried our best to reach Assi Square in order to show the world the truth about the regime - they are lying and will not allow us to have big, peaceful demonstrations," Mousab Hamadee, an activist in Hama, told the BBC.

"As we approached Assi Square, they started opening fire on us. Two of my colleagues were martyred," he added.

Two other people were shot dead after Friday prayers in the town of Nawa, in the southern province of Deraa, while a fifth died in the town of Salqin, in the north-western province of Idlib, activists said.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activist network, said security forces had killed 13 people across the country, including three each in Deraa and Hama, and two each in Idlib and Hama, it added. One person also reportedly died in the Damascus suburb of Daraya.

Apart from the demonstrations, activists reported that shelling by tanks and mortars had resumed on some quarters of Homs and elsewhere, though not at the same level as before. There were also some skirmishes between security forces and rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army.

Opposition groups also complained that there had been of raids on houses and detentions of suspected activists.

The state news agency, Sana, said an army officer had been killed and 24 others injured when a bomb exploded next to a military bus in Aleppo, and that a Baath Party official had been shot dead in al-Mazarib, in Deraa province.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the overall casualty figures for Friday, though they may be revised upwards, were very much lower than many had feared.

That is in tune with the overall state of the ceasefire itself, our correspondent says.

It has brought a sharp drop in the general level of violence and deaths but, with troops, tanks and heavy weaponry still deployed in and around population centres, it is still very fragile, he adds.

Getting the army back to barracks is one of Mr Annan's priorities, as is getting an advance party of observers onto the ground to monitor the ceasefire, which began at 0600 (0300 GMT) on Thursday.

'Standing by'

Mr Fawzi said the former UN secretary general's six-point peace plan had so far been "relatively respected" by both the government and armed opposition, but that he was "aware that we don't have a perfect situation".

"There are detainees that need to be released, humanitarian corridors need to be opened," he told reporters.

In addition to a ceasefire, Mr Annan's initiative calls for the withdrawal of soldiers and heavy weapons from cities, the release of prisoners, delivery of humanitarian aid and free movement for journalists.

Mr Fawzi said the advance team of 10 to 12 observers were "standing by to board planes and to get themselves on the ground as soon as possible". They could be followed by a larger mission of 250 observers, subject to UN Security Council approval.

The UN estimates that about 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011.

In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 - 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.