Rallies, clashes greet observer team in Syria
Syrian tank driving through the city of Homs on Dec 26. Heavy gunfire killed 34 people in Syria’s Homs as newly arriving Arab League observers were visiting the country. AFP photoTens of thousands of Syrians in Homs rallied yesterday against President Bashar al-Assad, emboldened by Arab peace monitors’ first tour of the flashpoint city, after the army withdrew some tanks following battles that killed 34 people in 24 hours.
“There are at least 70,000 protesters. They are marching towards the city centre and the security forces are trying to stop them. They are firing tear gas,” Rami Abdelrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
The observers want to determine if Assad is keeping his promise to implement a peace plan to end his uncompromising military crackdown on nine months of popular revolt that has generated an armed uprising, edging Syria towards civil war. The head of the Arab League’s monitoring team said the first day in Syria’s flashpoint city of Homs was “very good” and all sides were responsive to the monitors. “I am returning to Damascus for meetings and I will return tomorrow to Homs,” Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi said. “The team is staying in Homs. Today was very good and all sides were responsive.”
Some protesters however shouted “we want international protection” in a video posted on YouTube apparently showing a street encounter with the Arab League observers in which some residents argued and pleaded with them to venture further into the Baba Amr quarter, where clashes have been especially fierce. Lebanon said it will not send observers to Syria as part of an Arab League mission in order to avoid “negative repercussions” in Lebanon of the Syrian crisis, a government official told Agence France-Presse yesterday. “Lebanon does not want to isolate itself from other Arab League members or the international community, but at the same time we are trying to avoid allowing the Syria crisis to have negative repercussions on Lebanon,” the official said.
Infiltrators from Turkey killed: SANA
Activist reports just before the monitors arrived said up to a dozen tanks were seen leaving Baba Amr but others were being hidden to fashion a false impression of relative normality in the city while observers were around. On the border with Turkey, Syrian forces killed several men from an “armed terrorist group” trying to cross into Syria, the state news agency SANA said yesterday. The northern border has become the route of choice for infiltration by army defectors fighting to topple Assad.
“Special forces were able to kill and wound several gunmen and seized some weapons, ammunition, army uniforms, communication tools and fake identity cards,” SANA said. It did not give a specific casualty count. SANA also reported that said “an armed terrorist group targeted and sabotaged a gas pipeline near Rastan in Homs province” yesterday. The pipeline has been attacked several times in recent months and has come back into operation after outages each time.