Arab monitors finish visit to Syria’s Homs

Thousands demonstrate in the country’s protest hub, with Arab League observers on hand to oversee peace plan.

Syria protest in Homs

Arab League observers finished their first day of observation in the Syrian city of Homs, and will continue touring the area on Wednesday, the Syrian television channel Dunia said.

Arab League peace monitors are on a mission to assess whether Syria has halted its nine-month crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The delegation met the governor and toured the city on Tuesday as thousands gathered to rally against the government.

This came a day after activists said dozens of people were killed in Homs, which has been at the centre of the protests.

“The delegation is checking the damage left by the terrorist groups in Bab Sbaa and meeting with one of those who were kidnapped and families of the martyrs,” Syrian Dunia TV said earlier.

Footage posted online showed big crowds of anti-government protesters in the neighbourhoods of Bab Sbaa and Khaldiyeh and a funeral march in Ghouta area. Meanwhile, rallies in favour of President Bashar al-Assad and the army were reported in two other neighbourhoods.

Witnesses said the army pulled back tanks from Bab Amr, a flashpoint neighbourhood in the city, ahead of the observers’ arrival on Tuesday. However, some activists said tanks had just been repositioned in other areas of the city.

The 50 observers, who arrived in Syria on Monday, will be split into five teams of 10, according to Reuters news agency.

Teams are also due to visit Damascus, Hama and Idlib on Tuesday.

‘No restrictions’

The teams will use government transport, according to their head, Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi. But delegates insist the mission will nevertheless be able to go wherever it chooses with no notice.

“Our Syrian brothers are co-operating very well and without any restrictions so far,” al-Dabi told the Reuters news agency.

Other delegates said they expected to be able to “move freely between hospital, prisons and detention centres all over Syria”.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr comments on the Arab peace deal

“The element of surprise will be present,” Mohamed Salem al-Kaaby, a monitor from the United Arab Emirates, said.

“We will inform the Syrian side the areas we will visit on the same day so that there will be no room to direct monitors or change realities on the ground by either side.”

The observers’ mission is part of a plan seeking to put an end to the government’s crackdown, which the United Nations estimates to have killed more than 5,000 people since March.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi said the “mission has freedom of movement in line with the protocol” Syria signed with the Arab League.

Under that deal, the observers are banned from sensitive military sites.

The arrival of the observers and 10 Arab League officials came as activists reported the deaths of at least 45 people around the country on Monday, 33 of them in Homs.

An advance team of monitors arrived in Damascus on Thursday to lay the groundwork for the observer mission to oversee the implementation of the peace plan.

Peace plan

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said some of the observers were in Homs “but they are saying they cannot go where the authorities do not want them to go”.

Ghalioun also sought UN and Arab League intervention “to put an end to this tragedy”, and urged the UN Security Council to “adopt the Arab League’s plan and ensure that it is applied”.

“The plan to defuse the crisis is a good plan, but I do not believe the Arab League really has the means [to enforce it],” he told reporters in Paris.

“It is better if the UN Security Council takes this plan, adopts it and provides the means for its application.”

The Arab League plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

Assad’s government has been accused of intensifying its crackdown since signing the agreement.

Homs ‘slaughter’

Residents in Homs said on Monday that army tanks fired shells, machine guns and mortars into their neighbourhoods. Amateur video filmed by anti-government activists showed carnage in the city.

“What is happening is a slaughter,” Fadi, who lives near the Bab Amr neighbourhood, told the Reuters news agency. “They hit people with mortar fire.”

Bab Amr has been one of the hardest hit areas of Homs, a focal point of the Assad government’s crackdown on nine months of anti-government demonstrations.

Some parts of Homs have also seen fierce clashes between the Syrian army and the so-called Free Syrian Army which is made up of army defectors who say they decided to side with protesters.

There have been reports that deserters have been able to inflict casualties on the army.

“The violence is definitely two-sided,” said a resident who gave his name only as Mohammed. “I’ve been seeing ambulances filled with wounded soldiers passing by my window in the past days. They’re getting shot somehow.”

The opposition SNC said on Sunday that Homs was under siege and facing an “invasion” from about 4,000 troops deployed near the city.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies