DAMASCUS - Syrian pro-democracy protesters saw the New Year in with demonstrations, activists said, as a child was reportedly shot dead, becoming the first victim in 2012 of the regime’s crackdown on dissent.
“The first victim of 2012,” said a statement by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is a seven-year-old child killed in central Hama province when gunfire struck the vehicle he was riding in.
Meanwhile, Arab League monitors toured several flashpoint areas across the country, official media said, as a dispute emerged after one observer reportedly accused authorities of posting snipers on rooftops and demanded they be removed.
“The youths of the revolution held huge and simultaneous protests overnight to welcome the New Year,” said the Local Coordination Committees network of activists.
Protesters took to the streets in Daraa, Idlib and Aleppo, in the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishli and in Zabadani near Damascus, the LCC said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia. YouTube videos circulating on the Internet showed protesters across Syria celebrating 2012 with fireworks and holding up signs pledging “Freedom for Life” and denouncing President Bashar al-Assad as the enemy.
In the northern city of Idlib, hundreds of protesters are seen carrying torches and singing songs lauding “national unity” as fireworks light the night sky. In Syria’s second city and commercial hub of Aleppo, a protester held up a sign that said: “Long live free Syria.” A YouTube video shot in Zabadani near Damascus, shows hundreds of people dancing around a Christmas tree and chanting: “The people demand the ouster of the assassin.”
In Daraa, cradle of more than nine months of anti-regime protests, revellers held up banners saying Syria would fare better without Assad and pro-regime militias accused of brutal attacks on demonstrators. On Sunday, dozens of protesters demonstrated in the Idlib village of Al-Tah, according to a video circulated by Observatory which also showed signs with messages critical of the Arab League observer mission.
“The watchers are with Bashar. They don’t say the truth,” said one message in English. Another sign read: “God is the only observer” “May 2012 bring us all peace, safety and a promise of a free Syria,” the LCC said after more than nine months of anti-regime protests and a lethal regime crackdown on dissent that has killed thousands of people.
According to the LCC a total of 5,862 people were killed in the crackdown on dissent across Syria last year, including “321 male children, 74 female children and 146 women.” United Nations estimates in early December put the death toll at more than 5,000.
On Sunday a seven-year-old boy was killed by gunfire in his father’s car when it came under a hail of bullets, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Three other civilians were killed by gunfire from regime forces on Saturday, two of them by snipers in the flashpoint province of Homs, the watchdog said. Activists have accused the regime of posting snipers on rooftops as part of their brutal crackdown on dissent, in which government forces have also been accused of firing tear gas, stun grenades and, on Friday, “nail bombs.”
The issue of snipers appears to have triggered a dispute among the observers deployed since since Monday to implement an Arab League peace plan to end the bloodshed. In a video released by the Observatory, a man wearing an orange vest with the Arab League logo said in Daraa: “There are snipers; we have seen them with our own eyes.”
“We ask the authorities to remove them immediately; if they don’t remove them within 24 hours there will be other measures,” the unnamed speaker in the video, which was dated Friday, told a crowd of people. But veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who is heading the observer mission, said the official seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark.
“This man said that if he saw — by his own eyes — those snipers he will report immediately,” Dabi told the BBC’s Newshour programme. “But he didn’t see” any. State media reported that monitors visited Homs, including a military hospital, Idlib, Daraa and district near Damascus where they “met residents.”
The monitors are on a month-long mission that kicked off December 26 to implement a deal agreed by Damascus for for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.