By Mariam Karouny
DAMASCUS, May 4 (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed at least five people on Friday when they fired at demonstrations calling for the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, activists said.
The shootings occurred despite a three-week-old ceasefire agreement aimed at ending 14 months of bloodshed in Syria, part of a wider peace plan that international mediator Kofi Annan's spokesman said was still "on track".
The United States said on Thursday that a new international approach may be needed if the plan fails, accusing Assad of making "no effort" to implement it so far.
Annan is due to brief the Security Council next week.
Assad says he is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" and his international friends, including in Moscow, point out that rebels too have staged attacks in breach of the ceasefire.
Three people were killed when security forces fired on a demonstration in the Kfar Souseh district of Damascus, and a teenager was shot dead in the poor neighbourhood of Tadamun, activists said.
Another person was shot dead in Aleppo, a day after security forces and students with knives attacked a university protest against Assad, killing at least four people in Syria's once relatively peaceful commercial hub and second city.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were killed overnight in Aleppo, and put the death toll in violence across the country over the last 24 hours at more than 20.
Small groups of United Nations observers have deployed across the country to assess compliance by Assad's forces and their rebel opponents with the April 12 ceasefire.
Their leader, Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, has said they have had a "calming effect" in their areas of operation, adding that they cannot be expected to solve Syria's crisis, in which thousands have been killed since March last year.
Hundreds of people, including civilians, security forces and rebels, have been killed since the ceasefire was agreed.
PLAN ON TRACK
Annan's six-point plan includes a ceasefire, deployment of observers and free access for journalists and humanitarian aid, leading to talks on an political solution.
"I would say that the Annan plan is on track and a crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week," Fawzi said.
"There are signs on the ground of movement, albeit it's slow and small. There are also signs behind the scenes you don't see because this mediation effort by definition is conducted below the radar," Fawzi said.
Security was tight across the capital Damascus on Friday, with checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the city.
Roads leading to Midan - site of a suicide bombing last Friday which killed at least nine people - were cut off. Seven buses full of security were parked at one entrance to Midan.
Armed men in plain clothes also manned checkpoints while at one roundabout two soldiers sat behind sandbags manning a machine gun.
YouTube footage from Tadamun, which could not be independently verified, showed troops pointing automatic rifles at youths hurling rocks in the poor district on the southern edge of Damascus. Activists said 17-year old protester Mohammad Darwish was killed by army gunfire.
Mood, the chief U.N. observer, said in Homs on Thursday that his mission was steadily growing, with a total of 50 monitors in the country which would be doubled within weeks.
"We have reinforced our permanent teams in Hama and Deraa with an extra two monitors in each city," he said from the al-Safir hotel in Homs, where six monitors are based permanently.
Around 300 monitors will be deployed by the end of May.
Syria's uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful demonstrations inspired by a wave of Arab revolts against long-ruling autocratic leaders, but it has become increasingly militarised in response to Assad's violent crackdown.
The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have died in the crackdown, while the Syrian government says it has lost at least 2,600 of its forces to "foreign-backed terrorists".
Despite the turmoil, Syria plans to hold a parliamentary election on Monday under a new constitution which has allowed the creation of new political parities and formally ended decades of monopoly by Assad's ruling Baath Party.
Authorities say the election is part of a reform process, but the opposition dismisses it as a sham.
(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, writing by Dominic Evans)
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|