Agence France-Presse

Thousands take to the streets in northern Syrian city of Aleppo

Syrian protesters shout slogans during an anti-regime demonstration in the town of Atareb, 30km west of Aleppo, on April 27, 2012. Tens of thousands protested across Syria as a deadly suicide bombing rocked the capital, killing 11 people and fueling growing skepticism over the prospects of a UN-backed peace plan.
Credit: AFP

Syrian security forces have fired tear gas and live ammunition to try to disperse thousands of people who have taken to the streets in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, in the biggest protests there since the uprising against President Bashir al-Assad began in January 2011.

“This is the largest protest in Aleppo since the beginning of the revolution. Thousands of protesters are demonstrating, despite the regime forces’ repression,” Rami Abdul Rahman from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Al Arabiya.

Syria's second city has so far not experienced the violence that has shaken other cities during the uprising against the Assad regime. Analysts say the government's ability to keep control of Aleppo is one of its key tests, according to the BBC.

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Anti-regime activists had earlier called for Friday protests under the slogan “Heroes of Aleppo University,” in solidarity with some 15,000 students who demonstrated outside the gates of the university on Thursday as UN observers were visiting to oversee a largely ignored internationally-backed ceasefire. Security forces broke up the rally.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least seven people died in violence across the country today, including two children and a woman killed by regime forces, according to the Agence France Presse.

Opposition activists told the Associated Press that Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in several other locations around the country on Friday, including in the Damascus suburbs and the central city of Hama.

Heavy gunfire and shelling was reported in several neighbourhoods of Homs city. The military is also reported to have shelled the town of Rastan, which has been under rebel-control since January.

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On Friday Major General Robert Mood, the head of the UN observer team in Syria to monitor a ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in April, said that his mission cannot permanently end the violence without genuine talks between the two sides.

Speaking in Damascus, Mood warned that no number of observers can achieve "a permanent end to the violence if the commitment to give dialogue a chance is not genuine from all internal and external actors," The Daily Telegraph reports.

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