BEIRUT -- In the first major test of a UN-brokered truce, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets Friday for anti-government protests, activists said. Security forces responded by firing in the air and beating some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of wide-scale shelling, sniper attacks or other potential violations of the cease-fire.
President Bashar Assad's regime has cracked down on protest rallies in the past and suggested it would not allow them to resume Friday, insisting protesters need to seek permission first. Syrian forces tightened security in public squares and outside mosques.
A major outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give government forces a pretext for ending the peace plan, which aims to calm the uprising that began in March 2011 and has killed 9,000 people and pushed the country toward civil war.
The truce is at the center of international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan to stop the bloodshed and launch talks on a political transition.
Annan's spokesman expressed cautious optimism that the plan has been "relatively respected" despite the continued presence of government troops and heavy weapons in population centers. Ahmad Fawzi said an advance team of UN observers was poised to enter Syria if the Security Council gives the green light later Friday. He said Syria also needs to approve the mission, which envisions a force of 250 observers on the ground.
Earlier Friday, Syrian troops fought with rebels near the border with Turkey; other scattered violence was reported. The truce calls for the Syrian government to allow peaceful protests. Opposition activists urged supporters to take to the streets after Friday prayers to test the regime's compliance.