Syrian regime troops used tear gas on Saturday to try to disperse a mass funeral in the streets of Damascus, hours after a series of blasts rocked the Syrian capital and the northern commercial hub of Aleppo
“Syrian regime forces used tear gas to disperse people attending the funerals of the Kfar Sousa martyrs and calling for the fall of the regime,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The protests were staged after deadly blasts rocked Damascus and the country's second city Aleppo earlier on Saturday, the Observatory said
One explosion in Aleppo went off in a car wash just as a bus was passing by in Tal al-Zarazir district, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Two blasts also hit the capital Damascus, Abdel Rahman told AFP in Beirut.
“One explosion occurred inside the city, and the other hit the periphery,” he said.
One of the Damascus blasts appeared to target a bus transporting regime troops, said Abdel Rahman. “At least three regime troops were wounded,” he added.
The other Damascus explosion caused no casualties, according to the Observatory.
Also in Damascus, regime troops opened fire in the central neighborhood of Barzeh, as they carried out multiple raids and made arbitrary arrests in the capital, the watchdog said.
Abdel Rahman, speaking on the phone from Britain, accused the government of carrying out the Damascus bombings to prevent people attending funerals for nine civilians killed in the Syrian capital on Friday.
A peace agreement was brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, whose office said Friday that his peace plan was “on track.”
Under the six-point plan, the government of embattled President Bashar al-Assad is supposed to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from urban areas and allow peaceful demonstrations.
On Friday, protesters emerged from mosques after weekly prayers across the country, calling for Assad’s ouster, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among Friday’s casualties were a couple and their child shot dead in the northern city of Aleppo, scene of a bloody regime raid the day before in which four university students died.
Another 200 students were arrested in what the Observatory said could prove a turning point of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria’s second city and commercial hub, largely spared the violence so far.
Troops also shot at demonstrators in various other cities and towns, activists said.
Opposition activists had called for the protests under the rallying cry: “Our commitment (to the revolution) is our salvation.”
Anti-regime demonstrations have been staged after prayers each Friday since the revolt against Assad’s iron-fisted rule erupted in March 2011.
An amateur video posted on YouTube by activists showed demonstrators in Irbin, a town in Damascus province, carrying a banner that read: “Dear observers, thank you for your visit and goodbye.”
“One year of killings and you still need observers to know the truth? Enough lies,” read another banner carried by protesters in a neighborhood of the capital.
Overall, the Observatory estimates that more than 11,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of the revolt against Assad’s regime.
Abu Omar, an activist in the Damascus region, told AFP via Skype that it was clear government troops were not intimidated by the presence of U.N. observers.
“The security forces seem very much at ease with the situation, as though they’ve been given the green light to go on with the crackdown,” he said.
He added that in some regions around the capital, government checkpoints had been beefed up rather than drawn down.
Major General Robert Mood, who heads the U.N. mission to oversee the hard-won ceasefire agreement, had issued an appeal late Thursday for the Assad regime to make the first move to end the violence.
“The strongest party needs to make the first move,” he told reporters in Syria, stressing he was referring to the government and army.
“They have the strength, they have the position and they also have the potential generosity to make the first step in a good direction,” he said.
The official SANA news agency said observers on Friday visited Latakia on the coast, the northwest Idlib province, the central city of Hama and the village of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon.
In Geneva, Kofi Annan’s spokesman said his peace plan was “on track.”
“The Annan plan is on track and a crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week,” Ahmad Fawzi told journalists.
“There are signs on the ground of movement, albeit slow and small.
“Some heavy weapons have been withdrawn, some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded, some violence continues. And that is not satisfactory, I’m not saying it is,” Fawzi said.
On April 30, explosions blew the fronts off buildings in the northern town of Idlib, where state TV reported nine people killed and 100 wounded, including security personnel.
Three days earlier, a suicide bomber killed nine, including security men, at a Damascus mosque, the Interior Ministry said.
An Islamist group calling itself the Support Front for the People of the Levant claimed responsibility for that bombing and for an April 24 attack on the Iranian cultural consulate in Damascus. Iran is one of Syria’s closest allies.
Assad has long argued that he is combating foreign-backed “armed terrorist groups” rather than a popular uprising. Syrian officials say rebels have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.
Fifty out of a planned total of 300 United Nations observers are now in Syria to monitor the ceasefire.