By Douglas Hamilton
BEIRUT, April 13 Four protesters were shot dead
in Syria on Friday and an army officer was killed on the second
day of a nationwide ceasefire meant to open a path to peaceful
political dialogue after 13 months of extreme violence.
The fatal shootings occurred as demonstrators rallied
against President Bashar al-Assad, who has accepted the terms of
the United Nations-brokered ceasefire which took effect on
Thursday and calls on the army and rebels to stop shooting.
Syrians took to the streets across the country in small
demonstrations after Friday's Muslim prayers, trusting that the
two-day-old ceasefire would protect them from the army bullets
that have frightened off peaceful protesters for months.
Activists said security forces came out in strength in many
cities to prevent protesters forming major anti-Assad rallies.
A slogan carried by protesters in the Qadam district of
Damascus said: "Bashar may be able to laugh at the whole world -
except for the Syrian people" Another said: "The new comedy is
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and
the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees said two people
were killed as marchers tried to converge on a central square in
the city of Hama.
Troops shot one person dead as worshippers left a mosque in
Nawa in the southern Deraa province, where the uprising began. A
third was killed by security forces in the town of Salqeen in
the northwestern province of Idlib, they said, and a fourth was
shot dead in the town of Deraya, in Damascus province.
Syria's state news agency SANA blamed two of the deaths on
the opposition, saying an "armed terrorist group" shot dead the
man in Salqeen and attributing the death of the Hama protester
to a shot fired by a fellow demonstrator.
It also said "terrorists" shot dead an army major as he
drove to work at his unit. Armed groups were seeking to "destroy
any effort to find a political solution to the crisis" in Syria,
Rallies filmed by activists were far smaller than the huge,
chanting crowds seen in major cities at the start of the
uprising 13 months ago and on several occasions in 2011, before
ruthless suppression drove all protest off the streets.
Activists reported shots fired in the air at several
locations on Friday to scare off crowds.
NO BIG RALLIES
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said there was no
major demonstration on Friday. He estimated the number of Assad
opponents marching in public totalled tens of thousands.
In Damascus, an activist reported a heavy security presence
across the capital. Demonstrators threw stones at security
forces in Jobar district, and there were demonstrations in the
Barzeh, Kafr Souseh and Midan quarters.
Along with the ceasefire and withdrawal of military forces
from population centres, the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League
envoy Kofi Annan calls for talks with the opposition aimed at a
Assad also agreed to "respect freedom of association and the
right to demonstrate peacefully". But he has not withdrawn
troops, tanks and artillery from urban centres.
Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National
Council (SNC), said on Thursday he did not trust Damascus to
allow the renewal of protests.
"While we call on the Syrian people to protest strongly ...
we ask them to be cautious because the regime will not respect
the ceasefire and will shoot," he told Reuters.
The Syrian Interior Ministry said only authorised
demonstrations would be permitted by police.
"This is ridiculous," said an activist called Musab from
Hama city. "They will not give you permission and you will be
taken to jail if you ask for it".