Protesters plead for help to end Syrian bloodshed
Published 28/12/2011 | 05:00
TENS of thousands of Syrian protesters marched on the centre of the embattled city of Homs yesterday to demand in person that the Arab League take action against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.
Protesters were filmed shouting at the delegates, even as gunfire could be heard in the background. "We are unarmed and dying," one screamed. "We are being slaughtered," said another.
There was no immediate reaction to the visit by the regime, but it will feel gravely humiliated by the baldness of the confrontation, with a crowd estimated at between 20,000 and 70,000 strong swaying arm-in-arm and chanting slogans on streets raked by gunfire just the day before.
It will also be a test of the regime's plans for dealing with the crisis.
Ausama Monajed, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council (SNC), the umbrella group for regime opponents, said it could lead to a further massacre. "They have to maintain a rate of 40 to 50 killed every day to ensure they are not showing any sign of weakness," Mr Monajed said. "The whole world is watching civilians being slaughtered."
The arrival of the monitoring mission to Homs was preceded by a military assault on the rebels' stronghold district of Baba Amr in which scores of people were killed over the weekend. Yesterday, a further 30 people were killed across the country, activists said.
In Homs, some tanks were seen withdrawing in advance of the visit by the Arab League delegates, who arrived in Damascus on Monday night. This gave rise to the dramatic encounters between residents and monitors as they arrived in the city during the funeral of one of the regime victims.
Individuals felt safe enough to begin approaching monitors, demanding to be allowed to speak to them and to the delegation's leader, Lt Gen Mohammed Ahmed Mustapha al-Dabi, a former head of Sudanese intelligence. One woman showed them what she said were bloodstains left when her son was shot the day before.
Another begged a monitor to follow him on a tour of the city's troublespots.
The crowds were eventually stopped from reaching the city centre by tear gas. As a result, there were thought to be fewer deaths in the city than in previous days.
The league's mission is supposed to oversee implementation of a peace deal agreed by the Syrian authorities eight weeks ago. But that deal, which was meant to include the withdrawal of all troops from the streets of Syrian cities and political negotiations, is already in shreds. Instead, the mission will have to advise the league on what its next steps should be, including whether to increase sanctions on the regime and whether to take the SNC's peace proposals to the United Nations.
The SNC has also supported calls for an internationally backed 'humanitarian corridor' to bring relief supplies and form an evacuation route for the worst affected cities, including Homs. That proposal would almost certainly meet fierce opposition from Damascus, which would see it as the start of attempts to divide Syria.
Until now, there has been little chance that any form of concerted UN action could succeed in the face of opposition from China and Russia, both of which said they would veto sanctions. But the opposition believes that China has changed its stance and that Russia would agree if offered tactical sweeteners. (© Daily Telegraph, London)