- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2011

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian tanks mounted with machine guns fired on a city at the center of the country’s uprising Thursday, defying a day-old agreement between the Syrian government and the Arab League to end nearly eight months of bloodshed, activists said.

At least nine people were killed in the tank fire and other violence in Homs, according to two main Syrian activist groups. A crackdown on dissent and what appears to be growing sectarian bloodshed has turned Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and home to some 800,000 people, into one of the country’s deadliest areas.

The opposition vowed to flood the streets Friday to test whether the regime will stop using force against peaceful protesters.

“May Friday be the day where all streets and squares become platforms for demonstrations, and for the peaceful struggle toward achieving the downfall of the regime,” said a Syrian activist coalition called the Local Coordinating Committees.

The uprising shows no signs of stopping despite a government crackdown that the United Nations estimates has killed some 3,000 people. The capture and death of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last month only served to invigorate the Syrian protesters, many of whom carry signs and chant slogans warning President Bashar Assad that he will be the next dictator to go.

The latest bloodshed cast a pall over the Arab League accord announced Wednesday in Cairo.

Under the plan, the Syrian government agreed to pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, stop violence against protesters and release all political prisoners. Syria also agreed to allow journalists, rights groups and Arab League representatives to monitor the situation in the country.

The proposal is the latest in a string of international efforts to ease the crisis, which has led to wide condemnation of the regime. European Union and U.S. sanctions are chipping away at Syria’s ailing economy, and many world leaders have called on Mr. Assad to step down.

Many critics say Damascus has no intention of abiding by the agreement and simply is buying time.

“We informed the (Arab League‘s) secretary-general of our concerns about the regime’s lack of credibility to carry out the proposal; notably, the city of Homs was attacked yesterday and today,” said Samir Nashar, who headed the opposition’s talks with the Arab League.

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition in Cairo, Mo’men Kwafatiya, said Syria’s approval of the Arab League proposal is a maneuver to avoid having its membership suspended or frozen in the Arab body, something that Gulf countries quietly have been pushing for.

“The (Arab League) decision did not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.

In accepting the initiative, Mr. Assad may be counting on the opposition’s shortcomings to give him time to ride out the uprising. Regime opponents in Syria are a diverse, fragmented group, and the opposition is struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience.

Mr. Assad, 46, still has a firm grip on power, in part because he retains the support of the business classes and minority groups who feel vulnerable in an overwhelmingly Sunni nation.

Syria blames the bloodshed on “armed gangs” and extremists seeking to destabilize the regime in line with a foreign agenda.

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