Arab monitors tour Syrian hotspots, amid opposition dismay
Observers from the Arab League entered some of Syria's dissident areas Wednesday, amid dismay from the opposition at the performance of the mission, dpa reported.
The observers' main task is to oversee the implementation of an Arab League plan which calls for the withdrawal of security forces from civilian areas and the release of people detained during the turmoil. Their mission is due to last one month and they are suppose to report their findings to the Arab League.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's clampdown on pro-democracy protests since they began in mid-March, according to the United Nations.
Omar Homsi, an activist based in Homs, told dpa by phone that the delegation entered the flashpoint of Baba Amr neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs, toured the area and spoke to residents.
"Members of the delegation who stayed for two hours in Baba Amr were shocked with the damage they saw in the neighborhood due to the heavy shelling that has hit the area," Homsi told dpa.
"Come and see with your own eyes what this army has done to us and our children," Homsi quoted one woman as telling the delegation.
Residents of Baba Amr had initially refused to allow the monitors in because an army officer was accompanying them, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman told dpa.
The residents only relented after the officer stayed out.
According to Abdel Rahman the monitors also visited the Bab Sebaa quarter, another restive area in Homs.
Abdel Rahman called on the observers to investigate the fate of what he said were tens of thousands of people arrested since unrest erupted in mid-March.
"So far the Syrian authorities have been cooperative, but we will not give details about our report to the press," Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who heads the mission, told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper in remarks published Wednesday.
The mission's presence coincided by a statement issued earlier Wednesday by the Human Rights watch accusing the Syrian authorities of having "transferred perhaps hundreds of detainees to off-limits military sites to hide them from Arab monitors.
"The Arab League should insist on full access to all Syrian sites used for detention, consistent with its agreement with the Syrian government," the watchdog said.
A source close to the monitoring delegation told dpa from Damascus that some observers were to head later Wednesday to Hama in north, Idlib near the Syrian-Turkish border and Daraa in the south.
"By Thursday, we will have teams in Homs and in the three provinces," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Despite the presence of the observers, Syrian opposition politicians expressed dismay with the mission's performance.
"The Arab League mission is not doing anything to help the Syrian people who are dying in dozens every day," Bassam Jaraa, an opposition figure, told dpa from London.
"People are still getting killed despite the presence of the delegation,"he added.
"The mission's chief said he was optimistic ... optimistic about what with more people getting killed?" Jaraa said.
The head of the mission Sudanese general Mustafa Dabi had said earlier Wednesday he was "optimistic" about his mission.
"So far the Syrian authorities have been cooperative, but we will not give details about our report to the press," Dabi told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper in remarks published Wednesday.
The mission is the first of its kind in the history of the Arab League.
Syrian activists, however, insisted that the crackdown by the Syrian forces on pro-democracy protesters was continuing despite the presence of the Arab monitors.
Nineteen people, among them three children, were killed Wednesday by the Syrian security forces in Hama, said Homsi.
Meanwhile, France criticized the Arab observer mission, saying it had been unable to stop the bloodshed in the dissident city of Homs.
The French Foreign Ministry added in a statement that the mission's brief stop in Homs the day before meant that the observers had not been able to properly evaluate the situation there.