Shaam News Network, via Reuters

Demonstrators waved opposition flags in Al Qasseer, Syria, on Friday. The response of security forces was aggressive in some places, passive in others.


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrians by the thousands marched through the streets of cities and towns across the country on Friday, testing a tenuous, day-old cease-fire that the United Nations struggled to shore up when the rapid deployment of international observers snagged on Russian objections.

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There were scattered reports of deaths and arrests linked to the demonstrations, which had been dubbed “A Revolution for All Syrians” by local organizers nationwide.

Participants admitted to feeling somewhat tentative, sticking to back streets to avoid the security forces, snipers and tanks that were used to suppress the peaceful protest movement and that remained deployed around many central squares and major crossroads.

But the marches were just big and exuberant enough to remind demonstrators of the mass rallies that started in March 2011 to demand the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We remembered the old days when we would protest in large numbers, when the whole city would protest,” said Fares, an activist in Zabadani, near Damascus, reached via Skype.

In Zabadani, as in many places, residents described a heavy police presence around mosques — the weekly Friday Prayer sermons have provided the kickoff for mass demonstrations since the beginning. “We didn’t gather in one point, we kept moving,” Fares said, with a lookout posted near security headquarters to raise the alarm when patrol vehicles roared onto the streets. “We wanted to show the world that we are adhering to our demands.” He asked to be identified by only his first name to avoid government reprisals.

A video uploaded onto You Tube said to have been filmed in downtown Hama showed an extensive mob clapping their hands overhead in unison while chanting “Oh God, let our victory be fast!” Another from Homs was more pointed with the crowd yelling “We want your head, Bashar!” among other slogans. Women and children appeared in some videos — they had all but disappeared under the onslaught that has left at least 9,000 people dead by the United Nations’ count.

Syria’s official news media reported mass demonstrations across the country in support of Mr. Assad.

The security forces were aggressive in some places, passive in others, a patchwork difficult to gauge from afar, as were the demonstrations themselves. Multiple checkpoints around Damascus were used to prevent public transportation from entering the downtown area, and security vehicles with Kalashnikov barrels protruding from windows slowly circulated in many areas.

A group of security officers in one such vehicle shouted at a group of worshipers emerging from a mosque to hurry home. In the suburb of Maadamiah, as the funeral of a protester shot dead on Thursday began to turn into a mass protest, security forces blocked the route to the cemetery and shot toward protesters to disperse them, said Usama, an activist reached by telephone, who also used one name for safety reasons.

Activists around the country reported that some demonstrators had been tear-gassed and others had been beaten, and there were a few reports of renewed shelling. But the violence was far less than in recent months, when scores were reported killed daily under the pounding of heavy weaponry.

Both the lack of international news media representatives circulating across the country and the presence of security forces on the streets contradicted the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight people killed after the demonstrations started. In addition, a lieutenant was killed and 24 other officers and a few civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb destroyed a bus in Aleppo, according to state-run news media. It also accused “armed terrorist groups”— its shorthand for all opposition — with the assassination of a local Baath Party official near the southern town of Dara’a and the shooting death of a brigadier general overnight near Damascus.

Given that all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council had endorsed Mr. Annan’s six-point plan, including the deployment of United Nations monitors, the resolution authorizing the mission had been expected to pass easily.

But Russia, the Assad government’s most important defender, objected to an operative paragraph that would give the monitors a free hand in conducting their work, granting them abilities like unhindered access to any place in the country and the right to interview anyone without government interference, according to Security Council diplomats.

Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, said he still expected a rapid vote on the resolution, but it was unclear how quickly the differences could be resolved. Negotiations going paragraph by paragraph started Friday afternoon and no vote was expected until at least Saturday, diplomats said.

An advance team of up to 30 observers, drawn from various United Nations peacekeeping or observer missions in the region, was due to be sent as soon as the Security Council approved it, said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman. The full mission would reach 250 observers he said, and as is common on such missions, Syria would have ultimate approval over the nationalities involved.

Mr. Fawzi described the cease-fire as “relatively respected.”

Valerie Amos, the top United Nations official on humanitarian aid, said at least one million people were in need of such help in Syria — the rapid provision of that is also part of the peace plan.

But foreign leaders continued to express profound doubts about how long it might hold. In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told a television interviewer, “I do not believe in Bashar al-Assad’s sincerity, nor, unfortunately, in the cease-fire.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who is fighting for a second term in elections starting later this month, said the deployment of United Nations observers was important “so that at the very least we know what is happening,” and he urged the creation of humanitarian corridors to enable “those unfortunates who are being massacred by a dictator” to flee.

Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Beirut, Alan Cowell from London, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.