Syrians Activists Call for Mass Protests as Observers Continue Visit

Posted December 30th, 2011 at 7:10 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian security forces have been deployed heavily throughout the country, as opposition activists urged protesters to take to the streets following Friday prayers.

Though the presence of Arab League monitors has emboldened efforts to force President Bashar al-Assad from power, protest organizers say they have little hope their presence will protect them from a continued crackdown on dissent.

Security forces killed at least 25 people Thursday as monitors fanned out across the country to check the government's compliance with a pledge to end its bloody crackdown and release political detainees.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says troops opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing at least four people. As word spread that Arab League observers were in the area, thousands began to gather, calling for Mr. Assad's downfall and international protection for civilians.

Activists said Thursday's violence also includes at least six deaths in Hama. The central city has been a flashpoint of anti-government unrest.

Syria has pulled some of its tanks from the city of Homs and released about 800 prisoners. But the country's top opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, said the government continues to hold more than 100,000 people, “some of them in military barracks and aboard ships off the Syrian coast.”

Meanwhile, the government said monitors “met a number of citizens” in Damascus and Homs as well as the Daraa and Hama regions. About 60 observers are in the country. Some 150 are expected to enter Syria by the end of the week.

Questions have been raised that the Arab monitors are neither properly qualified nor independent. Earlier this week, residents of the hard-hit district of Baba Amr in Homs refused to allow observers in because army officers were with them. The standoff ended when the officers withdrew.

On Friday, Syria's ally Russia said it is “satisfied” with the initial results of the Arab League observer mission. The foreign ministry said in a statement that the situation in the restive city of Homs “seems to be reassuring,” based on initial observer reports.

Earlier this week, observer mission chief Mustafa al-Dabi said that he saw “nothing frightening” in the flashpoint city, which has seen some of the worst violence during the nine-month uprising.

Syrian authorities agreed to the observers under international pressure and threats of Arab sanctions. The plan requires the government to give the monitors freedom of movement except for sensitive military sites.

A key activist network, the Local Coordination Committees, said it has documented the names of 130 people who died since monitors arrived late Monday. The claim could not be verified as Syria does not allow independent journalists into the country.

The United Nations estimates 5,000 people have been killed since March in violence linked to Syria's unrest. Syria says armed terrorists are driving the revolt. It accuses them of killing 2,000 security personnel since March.