Syria death toll climbs despite observer mission

Syria death toll climbs despite observer mission

Arab League monitors were due to spread out to more Syrian protest hubs today even as human rights activists reported new civilian deaths in a regime crackdown on dissent.

At least 68 civilians have been killed by security forces since a first group of monitors arrived on Monday in Syria for a month-long renewable mission amid international fears that authorities will hinder their work.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 14 civilians were killed yesterday by regime forces in several flashpoints areas, including a five-year-old boy who died in the restive city of Homs.

Activists emboldened by the presence of the monitors have meanwhile called for massive anti-regime rallies across the country on Friday, the weekly day of rest that has been a pivotal time for democracy protests.

"On Friday we will march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested," Facebook activists said in a statement on the Internet.

"We will march as we did in Homs and Hama where we carried olive branches only to be confronted by Bashar's gangs who struck us with artillery and machinegun fire," said the Syria Revolution 2011 activists.

France, the United States and Human Rights Watch have warned the Syrian regime against trying to hide the facts from the monitors and Paris charged the team was not being allowed to see what was happening in Homs.

Those concerns were highlighted when Baba Amro residents yesterday refused to allow in observers in because they were accompanied by a Syrian army officer. But the standoff ended when the officer withdrew.

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