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Arab League Monitors Arrive in Homs, Syria as Tanks Pull Out

Bashar al-Assad (photo: PanARMENIAN_Photo, flickr)

Observers from the Arab League have reached Homs, Syria, at the same time as Syrian security forces pulled tanks off the streets. Even then, security forces squeezed off their final shots at the protesters:

But sporadic fighting continued on Tuesday morning in Bab Amr, the neighborhood hardest hit by the violence that has left dozens of people dead in recent days, residents said. Activists said some tanks were still visible. They claimed others were being hidden.

Early Tuesday, a contingent of observers met with the governor of Homs and then with opposition figures inside the city.

Ahmed, an activist with the Local Coordination Committees in Homs, said in a telephone interview that he was among a group of people escorting observers from Sudan, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania. As the group tried to visit a mosque where several bodies were being stored, they were stopped by gunfire coming from a government checkpoint.

This is a moment of truth for the Arab League. The condition for Syria signing their agreement was to withdraw heavy weapons from the major cities, and stop the indiscriminate murder of protesters. Almost immediately upon signing, Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad escalated the killing, using a suicide bomb attack on a security outpost as a pretext.

Protesters claim hundreds have been killed in the days leading up to the monitors entering the country. Clearly Assad was trying to kill as many protesters as possible before observation would make that impossible. And still, the observers saw plenty. In YouTube videos, you can see activists urging the observers to announce that they saw snipers and “martyrs” in Homs. And others criticized the observers for failing to reach the “hot spots” and witnessing the true brutality. In addition, the security forces are the observer’s drivers, escorting them to the conflict zones.

The observers did provide the opportunity for demonstrations in Homs, with thousands participating. But what will the observers make of the situation? Will they be able to claim that the government is not following the Arab League agreement? What sanctions could they slap on Assad? Will they see both sides firing at each other, with military defectors and civilians finally taking up arms against their oppressors, and call it a civil war? Will they consider security force actions self-defense?

The credibility of the Arab League is on the line with the observer’s report. And many activists in Syria are not hopeful.

More from The Guardian.

UPDATE: Activists believe the tanks which withdrew can redeploy again within five minutes, that they were just set aside while the observers walk through town.

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David Dayen

David Dayen