Damascus: Syrian police used tear gas to disperse some 70,000 people who took to the streets of Homs on Tuesday as Arab observers visited there a day after dozens of people died in the crackdown on dissent.

"More than 70,000 demonstrators tried to enter Al-Saa square in the centre of the city of Homs, then security agents used tear gas to disperse them," said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On its Facebook page, the Observatory said separate demonstrations were held elsewhere in the city, aimed at "exposing the ill practices and crimes of the regime."

The protest comes as Arab League observers visited the flashpoint central city to monitor a deal to end a nine-month crackdown on anti-regime protests.

Following the killings of a reported 34 civilians in Homs' Baba Amro district on Monday, residents held a funeral in nearby Kefer Ayia for some of those who died, and were fired on by security services, the Observatory said.

Activists said the military pulled its tanks back from one district ahead of the Arab team's arrival, only to hide them
inside government zones from which they could be redeployed within minutes.

Meanwhile, SANA state news agency reported that saboteurs blew up a gas pipeline in Homs province, where Syria's regime has been trying for months to crush dissent and mutinous soldiers.

Protesters appeared to have been emboldened by the presence of the observers, headed by veteran Sudanese military intelligence General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi.

"Till now, they have been very cooperative," Dabi said, speaking of the authorities by telephone before holding talks with governor Ghassan Abdel Al.

A television channel said the observers also visited Homs' Bab Sebaa neighbourhood, where they "assessed the damage carried out by terrorist groups."

"They also met with relatives of martyrs and a person who had been abducted" by these groups, said Dunia, which is close to the regime, adding that many people decried the "conspiracy against Syria" to the monitors.

Western governments and human rights watchdogs blame Assad's regime for the bloodshed.

The observers are also due to travel to the protest hubs of Hama, near Homs, and Idlib in the northwest, close to the border with Turkey, the television added, without saying when.

Ahead of the observers' arrival, the army pulled back heavy armour from Baba Amro, scene of much of the violence, it said.

Eleven tanks pulled out around 7:00 am local time, its chairman, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

The Observatory added, however, that tanks and troop carriers had "repositioned inside the government centres in Baba Amro, Al-Inshaatt and Brazil Street in Homs."

It cited an activist as saying on its Facebook page that "it only takes over five minutes" for the vehicles to return.

(Agencies)