Tens of thousands of defiant Syrian protesters thronged the streets of Homs on Tuesday, calling for the execution of President Bashar Assad.
They gathered shortly after Assad's army pulled its tanks back and allowed Arab League monitors in for the first time to the city at the heart of the anti-government uprising.
The pullback was the first sign the regime was complying with the League's plan to end the 9-month-old government crackdown on mostly unarmed and peaceful protesters.
Yet video released by activists showed forces firing on protesters even while the monitors were inside the city.
Syrian tanks had been heavily shelling Homs for days, residents and activists said, killing dozens even after Assad signed on early last week to the Arab League plan, which demands the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.
But a few hours before the arrival of the monitors, the army stopped the bombardment and pulled some of its tanks back.
The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that government forces fired on protesters while the monitors were in Homs and said two people were killed in the fire.
About 60 monitors arrived in Syria on Monday night -- the first foreign observers Syria has allowed in since March, when the uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule began. The League said a team of 12 visited Homs.
After agreeing to the League's pullback plan Dec. 19, the regime intensified its crackdown on dissent; government troops killed hundreds in the past week, and Syria was condemned internationally for flouting the spirit of the agreement.
On Monday alone, security forces killed at least 42 people, most of them in Homs. Activists said security forces killed at least 16 people Tuesday, including six in Homs.
Amateur videos showed residents of Homs pleading with the visiting monitors for protection.
"We are unarmed people who are dying," one resident shouted to one observer. Seconds later, shooting was heard from a distance as someone screamed: "We are being slaughtered here."
Given the intensified crackdown over the past week, the opposition views Syria's agreement to the Arab League plan as a farce. Some even accuse the League of complicity in the killings. Activists say the regime is trying to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.
"The Syrian government will cooperate symbolically enough in order not to completely alienate the Arab League," said Bilal Saab, a Middle East expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
"But make no mistake about it, its survival strategy is to keep kicking the can down the road, until domestic and international circumstances change in its favor."
Opponents of Assad doubt the Arab League can budge the autocratic leader at the head of one of the Middle East's most repressive regimes. Syria's top opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, called Sunday for the League to bring the U.N. Security Council into the effort. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the political violence.