Syrians demonstrate for "year of freedom" amid opposition split

Syrians demonstrate for "year of freedom" amid opposition split

Syrians took to the streets on Sunday in several parts of the country to express hope that 2012 would be their "year of freedom," according to opposition activists, DPA reported.

At mass protest in the dissident central province of Homs demonstrators chanted slogans against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, said the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of opposition activists.

The government forces fired on the protesters, causing an unspecified number of injuries, it added.

A similar protest was held in the district of Al Bayada in Homs where demonstrators wearing Santa Claus outfits chanted slogans against al-Assad, activists said.

Meanwhile, explosions were heard in Baba Amr, another flashpoint district in Homs, according to LCC.

Three civilians, including a 7-year-old child, were killed by security forces in the restive province of Hama, said opposition activists.

They said parts of the province had been subjected to heavy shelling since the early morning.

The LCC said it has documented the killing of 6,000 people in Syria since the anti-government uprising began in mid-March. The figure includes 395 children and 150 women, according to the network.

By United Nations estimates, more than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's clampdown against pro-democracy protesters.

It is hard to verify reports from Syria as the authorities have barred most foreign media and human rights groups from the country since the protests began.

Meanwhile, military forces clashed with army deserters near the capital Damascus, according to the opposition. The fighting in the town of Reef Damascus reportedly erupted as the government forces were hunting for suspected defectors.

Overnight mass protests were held in Reef Damascus where the anti-government demonstrators wished al-Assad "a bleak New Year," the activists said.

The violence dragged on as the Arab League prepared Sunday to send 40 more observers to support the 60 already in Syria to determine whether the government is complying with a peace plan.

The new team of observers made a brief stopover in the Egyptian capital, where they were to be briefed by officials at the Cairo-based Arab League before departing for Syria, sources at the Cairo airport said.

They added that the observers came from the Arabian Gulf countries, Iraq, Tunisia and Sudan.

Meanwhile, cracks have appeared among Syrian dissidents after two leading opposition groups signed a deal outlining a transitional period after the end of al-Assad's regime.

The agreement was signed late Friday by the Syrian National Council, an umbrella grouping of many opposition factions in exile, and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria that comprises leftist and Kurdish politicians based in Syria.

The deal rejects foreign military intervention in Syria and promises the creation of a civil multi-party parliamentary system.

It also envisages a one-year transitional period starting with an interim government taking over in Syria until a new constitution is approved.

"It is a superficial agreement that does not have many details," Syrian opposition activist, Bahia Mardeeni, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahrm on Sunday.

"The signatories want to share the cake through an interim government in the post-al-Assad period," she added.

Other opposition politicians have criticized the document for failing to declare unqualified support for the dissident Syrian Free Army.

The controversial deal, whose signatories said was a draft document, is to be presented to a conference of opposition groups to be held under the Arab League auspices this month.

No exact date for the gathering has been set.

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