30,OOO take to streets in as Syrian crisis enters critical stage
A DELEGATION of peace monitors from the Arab League has arrived in the Syrian city of Homs to see for itself the extent of the battle there between the army and anti-Assad rebels and protesters.
30,000 Syrians took to the streets of Homs as the observers visited, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State television said the delegation, headed by the former Sudanese intelligence chief Lt Gen Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, was meeting the governor of Homs, Ghassan Abdel Al.
The mission has acted with unexpected haste, most of its members only having arrived in the capital Damascus on Monday night.
But the situation in Homs was becoming critical after activists described and posted videos of a four day assault on the district of Bab al-Amr. Some of the footage showed twisted and bleeding bodies lying in the streets.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other human rights groups said that at least 34 people had been killed in Homs on Monday alone, most of them in Bab al-Amr. A further three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in neighbouring Hama province.
It also reported that 10 army defectors had been killed in fighting in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
The Arab League monitors said they wanted to maintain an element of surprise by not announcing to their hosts where they wished to go in advance, but it quickly became clear that Homs, scene of the most intense fighting in the nine-month uprising, would be their first target. They are expected also to visit the neighbouring province of Hama, and Idlib in the north, which was subject to a similar major assault to reassert government authority last week.The mission, comprising 50 politicians, military figures and human rights observers and ten Arab League officials, will be accompanied by Syrian officials, an arrangement described by one activist as akin to allowing a "rapist to act as a forensic expert assistant while examining the victim".
The government attack on Bab al-Amr has now been going on for four days. The latest video footage shows four male bodies lying in a narrow alleyway. The footage includes close-ups of one body's numerous bullet wounds.
Someone shouts over the soundtrack: "This is Baba Amr, December 26, 2011, and the random shelling is still falling on the neighbourhood."
Other footage shows tanks manoevring through the streets, accompanied by the sound of machine gun fire. Witnesses also said that rebel forces were firing back and inflicting their own casualties on government forces.
Activists said on Tuesday that some of the tanks had been seen withdrawing in advance of the arrival of the Arab League delegation, but that others remained in hiding.
Lt Gen Dabi said he had received good co-operation from the authorities so far. However, after eight weeks of waiting since Damascus agreed to an Arab League-sponsored proposal to withdraw its troops from the streets and allow in monitors, the proof of the pudding will be in the situation discovered on the first visits by his team.