Large-scale violent anti-government protests unfolded across Syria as tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on public squares to protest the al-Assad regime – nationwide rallies dubbed “The Crawl to Freedom Square.”
Once again Syria has seen deadly clashes as tens of thousands filled the streets to demonstrate against the government of president Bashar al-Assad and make their voices heard to Arab League monitors.
The protests coincide with reports of increased violence against demonstrators by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, even as an Arab League fact-finding mission works to determine whether the Syrian government is abiding by a peace agreement to end a brutal crackdown on protesters.
Arab League monitors are on a mission to implement an Arab League peace plan but the death toll in Syria shows no sign of abating despite their presence.
In the latest violence, activists said at least 10 people were shot dead as demonstrators determined to show the strength of their movement deployed in hotspots across the country. Five people were shot dead in the city of Hama and five in the city of Daraa in the south, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Five were martyred today and at least 20 wounded when the Syrian security forces opened fire,” the British-based group said, referring to Hama.
At least two dozen were injured in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where up to 70,000 massed, the group said. As they have in their nearly 10 months of resistance, Syrian activists and opposition groups used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to urge thousands to evade al-Assad’s forces and defy government-imposed curfews.
Troops tear-gassed the chanting crowds, who responded by throwing rocks at security forces.
The watchdog reported that “nail bombs” were used “to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in Douma,” but that could not be independently verified.
Further north in Idlib province, which borders Turkey, more than 250,000 protesters took the streets in various locations, the Observatory reported.
It said security forces fired at tens of thousands of protesters in Idlib, wounding 25.
Activists there said the army had put its heavy weapons out of sight.
“Security forces have moved some of their tanks out of the neighbourhood streets and have put them behind buildings further out,” said Manhal, a member of the local coordination committee.
“They have also moved the tanks out of main streets. Some of them they moved into dugouts.”
Protesters called for the ouster and prosecution of Mr Assad, whose autocratic regime has been blamed for the deaths of more than 5,000 people since pro-reform protests erupted in March.
“This Friday is different from any other Friday. It is a transformative step. People are eager to reach the monitors and tell them about their suffering,” said activist Abu Hisham in Hama.
In Homs, the city at the centre of nine months of revolt, Al Jazeera television showed a huge crowd of dancing protesters who appeared to be in the thousands.
“Revolution, revolution Syria, revolution of glory and freedom Syria,” they shouted.
Around 65 monitors are currently in Syria but there are plans to deploy between 150 and 200 observers.
They are in Syria as part of a peace plan – which Syria has agreed to – that calls on the government to withdraw all security forces from the streets and release all political prisoners.
But activists have expressed concern the government is interfering with the mission by blocking their access to the observers, while there are also fears ordinary people are afraid to talk to the observers.
Human rights groups say at least 40 people have been killed in the past two days, most of them in areas where the Arab League mission is visiting.
Syrian rebels fighting government forces say they have stopped all attacks while Arab League observers are in the country. It is difficult to know if that is true.
Mr Assad’s opponents say he turned his military forces loose on peaceful protests in March and has carried on a relentless crackdown for nine months since, driving Syria in the direction of civil war as some anti-Assad Syrians have taken up arms.
Mr Assad says he is fighting Islamist terrorism from outside Syria. Over 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed in the past nine months, according to the government.
Rights groups estimate the number of dead to be more than 5,000.
International journalists are mostly barred from Syria, making it difficult to confirm accounts from conflict zones.