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Syria Continues Crackdown Despite Pledges to Arab League

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather in Hula, near Homs in this undated handout released November 4, 2011.

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather in Hula, near Homs in this undated handout released November 4, 2011.

Syrian activists say government forces have killed at least 13 more civilians Friday, the first post-Friday prayer protests since authorities agreed to an Arab League plan to stop the violence.

The Syrian opposition say among the dead are victims of sniper attacks and artillery fire. Activists say tanks were used against protesters in the Baba Amr district of Homs, one of the hardest hit areas during the uprising. Demonstrators were out in huge numbers Friday, to see how the government would adhere to promises it made Wednesday at the Arab League to pull armed forces from the streets, stop attacks on civilians and begin a dialogue with its opponents.

Protesters clapped and chanted in Deir ez Zor, and other towns and cities across the country, but most found not much had changed. According to the opposition, troops once again surrounded mosques after midday prayers, firing weapons to keep people from congregating.

In Hama, would-be protesters shouted "God is great" as troops opened fire. State media countered with reports of more casualties among government forces, accusing "armed terrorist groups" -- a phrase the government often used to describe protesters -- of killing personnel in Homs, Hama and Idlib.

Interior Minister Mohammad al Shaar said Friday the government was urged all those with weapons to turn themselves in and offered an amnesty to anyone who had not committed a "serious" crime.

Al Shaar added that the move was made because of the government's concern for its citizens and to protect them criminals.

A member of the opposition Syrian National Council, Adib Shishakli dismissed the move.

"That's a continuation of their game: telling people we're trying to withdraw our forces from the street, but there are armed people against us and we want them to give their arms up. The only armed people are them," Shiskakli said.

Speaking from Istanbul via Skype, Shishakli added the opposition remains committed to peaceful protest.

Skype interview with Adib Shishakli, member of the Syrian National Council

U.S. officials were also skeptical of the offer of amnesty, advising Syrians not to turn themselves in to the authorities.

Arab League officials conceded they had no guarantees that Syria would keep its promises, saying only they would call another meeting should the violence continue. But many of the country's military defectors say they will remain committed to peaceful protest against the government, at least for now.

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