Syrian forces kill five in Homs, day after Arab deal

Activists and residents say five dead from Syrian tank fire in Bab Amro district less than a day after Syria accepts plan to end violence.

Syrian President Bashar Assad with his army generals 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian President Bashar Assad with his army generals 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Syrian security forces killed five people in the city of Homs on Thursday, activists and a resident said, a day after the government agreed to pull the military out of cities as part of an Arab League initiative to end unrest.
After seven months of street protests demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, and a nascent armed insurgency against his rule, Syria agreed on Wednesday to an Arab League plan to withdraw the army from cities, release political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition.
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Assad's critics have dismissed his past offers of dialogue as insincere, saying the killing must stop before any meaningful talks can take place. The main opposition National Council has not commented on Syria's acceptance of the Arab League plan.  However, Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun, one of the council's leading figures, questioned whether it would be implemented.
"The regime has accepted the Arab initiative out of fear of Arab isolation, its weakness and lack of options. But its acceptance does not mean it will respect its clauses," Ghalioun wrote on his Facebook page.
The Obama administration expressed reservations about whether Damascus would live up to the plan and repeated the US call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that Washington had doubts about the viability of the plan.
"Syria's made a lot of promises to the international community in the past," Nuland told a news briefing, saying the core issue was "a real process of democratization in Syria."
"That is the basis on which we will judge whatever has been agreed to here," Nuland said. "We're not going to judge them by their words, we're going to judge them by their actions."
In Syria, residents and activists said there were no signs so far of any troop pullout, and security operations continued.
In Homs, tanks fired heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns in Bab Amro, a hotbed of protests and scene of operations by the military against insurgents hiding there.
Activists named two civilians killed in the bombardment. A rubbish truck driver district was among three others killed elsewhere in the city of one million, where army snipers were shooting from rooftops and soldiers fired from checkpoints.
In the Damascus suburb of Harasta, at least 120 protesters were arrested overnight after celebrating the Arab League deal, a resident said.
Tough Syrian media restrictions have made it hard to verify events on the ground since an uprising against Assad began in March, inspired by other revolts in the Arab world.
The Arab plan calls for Syria to allow journalists, as well as Arab League monitors, into the country.
China, which along with Russia, has resisted imposing UN sanctions on Syria, welcomed the Arab League plan.
"We believe this marks an important step towards easing the situation in Syria and the early launching of an inclusive political process with broad participation from all parties in Syria," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The Arab League has not suspended Syria's membership or backed international intervention, as it did against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi's, who was toppled by NATO-backed rebels.
There was no lull in violence as the Arab League ministers met on Wednesday. In one incident alone, Syrian activists said security forces had shot dead at least 11 Sunni Muslim villagers at a roadblock near Homs. A YouTube video purportedly showed several bodies, gagged and with their hands tied behind them.
Their killing follows reports by an activist in Homs that nine members of the president's minority Alawite sect had been dragged from a bus and killed by gunmen near Homs on Tuesday.