Arab League Monitors Head to Syrian Protest Hub

Posted December 27th, 2011 at 4:50 am (UTC-5)
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Arab League monitors are traveling to the Syrian city of Homs, a hub of opposition protests where rights activists say government security forces intensified their attacks in recent days.

The head of the Arab League mission, Sudanese General Mohammed Dabi, said Tuesday monitors were on their way to Homs, as rights activists reported some government tanks pulling back from the city.

Rights groups had urged the observers to visit Homs quickly after security forces killed at least 30 people there on Monday.

Fifty monitors and 10 other league officials arrived in Syria from Egypt Monday to track promises by President Bashar al-Assad's government that it would withdraw its tanks and troops from cities and release political prisoners.

The Arab League said observers from at least eight Arab countries will visit several Syrian cities Tuesday, including Homs, Idlib, Hama and Daraa.

Rights activists and the opposition Syrian National Council say the government's agreement to the Arab League plan is a farce. Some anti-government protesters have criticized the league's stance to the point of accusing it of complicity in the killings.

Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun called on the U.N. Security Council Monday to take over the international effort to stop the violence plaguing the country.

Activists and witnesses said government tanks and security forces ravaged Homs' Bab Amr district Monday with heavy shelling and gunfire. Amateur video posted on YouTube shows bodies lying in pools of blood in front of a house apparently struck by a shell. Another video shows tanks prowling the streets of the district, an army defector stronghold.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said forces loyal to Mr. Assad also opened fire on a protest in neighboring Hama province, killing three people. The group said four army defectors also were killed Monday by troops in a town near the Turkish border.

Activists say hundreds of people have been killed this month in attacks by Syrian security forces on civilians and in fighting between pro-Assad troops and army defectors. It is not possible to confirm casualty figures independently because Syria bars foreign journalists from operating freely.

Syria agreed to the Arab League plan under international pressure and threats of Arab sanctions. The plan requires Mr. Assad to give the monitors freedom of movement everywhere except sensitive military sites. Members of the team say they will avoid disclosing their travel plans in advance in order to maintain the element of surprise.

Syrian opposition activists have called on the observers to abandon the mission if the government blocks access to centers of anti-Assad protest such as Homs.

The United Nations estimates 5,000 people have been killed in violence linked to the uprising since it began in March. Syria says “armed terrorists” are driving the revolt. It accuses them of killing 2,000 security personnel during that period.