Thousands of Syrian protesters took to the streets to prove to Arab League monitors the extent of their opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, the Los Angeles Times reported.
An estimated 500,000 people took to the streets in Syria Friday, in the largest demonstrations since the summer, the Guardian reported. The presence of Arab League monitors only energized the crowds. However, the monitors were unable to prevent or stop the violence.
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Syrian troops opened fired on the protesters, killing at least 12 people. Five members of the security forces were also killed in Homs, Reuters reported. The Guardian reported that at least 31 people were killed nationwide, in areas the Arab League has yet to visit.
Despite the killings, some activists said the presence of the Arab League brought on such intense international scrutiny that troops backed off from protesters in some areas, the Financial Times reported.
“We were able to move a bit more freely,” said Maria Haddad, an activist in the besieged city told the FT via Skype. “ Assad has [had] to withdraw some of the armed forces and tanks which enabled people to gather for the sit-in. But we are living a minute by minute [in] fear that they might go in and conduct another massacre.”
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Fridays continue to be a major day of protest in Syria, after midday prayers. An announcement by the Free Syrian Army said it had suspended attacks against security forces for the duration of the league’s mission, the LA Times reported.
“The order to stop any military operations was issued since the arrival of the observers,” said the group’s spokesman, Maj. Maher Nuaimi, the LA Times reported. “We want to show the world that these are peaceful demonstrations, that [President Bashar] Assad is a criminal, and that his army is using live ammunition against unarmed civilians.”
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