Continued from page 1

The protests continued Friday around the country, and security forces killed at least eight people, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, put the death toll at 11.

The Observatory said 50,000 protesters took to the streets in the Damascus suburb of Douma in the largest protest of the day. The numbers were impossible to confirm, however, because Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting.

Also Friday, SANA said terrorists blew up a pipeline that carries diesel from the central province of Homs to nearby Hama. There have been several pipeline blasts in recent months, but it is unclear who is behind them.

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria is not an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.

In a sign of just how polarized Syria has become, the opposition questioned the government’s allegations that terrorists were behind Friday’s attacks and the Dec. 23 bombings.

Opposition leaders suggest the regime itself could have been behind the violence to try to erode support for the uprising and show the Arab League observers that it is a victim in the upheaval. Neither the regime nor the opposition has produced evidence backing their accusations, and no one but Syrian authorities have access to investigate the blasts.

A spokesman for the Syrian National Council opposition umbrella group called for an independent investigation.

“It is a continuation of the regime’s dirty game as it tries to divert attention from massive protests,” spokesman Omar Idilbi said. “We call upon for an independent international committee to investigate these crimes that we believe that the regime planned and carried out.”

The Arab League observers started work Dec. 27 on a mission to monitor Syria’s compliance with a League-drafted peace deal. Under the deal, Assad’s regime is supposed to pull its military off the streets and stop its crackdown on protesters.

Despite the observers’ presence, violence has spiked, with Syrian activists saying up to 400 people have been killed since Dec. 21. The U.N. says the overall death toll since the revolt began is more than 5,000.

Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli condemned Friday’s attack.

“We are concerned about these explosions. That is why we are calling on the Syrian government to be totally cooperative with the mission and to work by all means to stop the bloodshed and allow room for the political process to begin,” he told The Associated Press in Cairo, where the League is based.

Bin Helli said the observers will have insight into the attack.

“The mission which is on the scene will undoubtedly have an opinion,” he said.

Opposition groups have been deeply critical of the Arab League mission, saying it is giving Assad cover for his crackdown. The observer mission’s Sudanese chief has raised particular concern because he served in key security positions under Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Story Continues →