Killings reported amid visits by Arab League mission

Fri, Dec 30, 2011, 00:00

A NUMBER of people were reported to have been killed yesterday by Syrian security forces, the majority in locations where Arab League monitors were seeking to bring an end to nine months of violence.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure at 16, while the local co-ordination committees operating on the ground in Syria said the toll was 28.

The observatory said four people were killed when government forces opened fire at a crowd outside a mosque in the Damascus suburb of Douma as monitors arrived at the nearby town hall.

Al-Jazeera satellite television channel broadcast video footage, said to be taken there, of monitors in orange vests taking cover.

Analysts suggest that the presence of monitors may be putting at risk people who seek to speak to them or to mount large protests to put forward their demands. Some activists have complained that access to the teams is difficult, while others say they have had no problems.

Teams of 10 monitors each fanned out across the country, visiting Idlib in the northwest, Hama, north of the central city of Homs, Deraa in the south and protest hubs around Damascus.

A team continuing its investigations in Homs for a third day, reportedly found some districts to be under the control of army deserters belonging to the “Free Syrian Army”.

Their presence seriously complicates the mission of the monitors who are meant to bring an end to violence from all sides and secure the withdrawal of troops and weaponry from urban areas.

The league peace plan also calls for the release of political prisoners, free access to media and dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

The observatory said the effort was the “only ray of light” and encouraged protesters to go out on to the streets. “The presence of the observers in Homs,” the organisation said, “broke the barrier of fear.”

However, Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the external opposition Syrian National Council, said the mission did not have the “capacity or experience” to halt the crackdown. He called for “inter national intervention” and the creation of a buffer zone along the northern border with Turkey, where there are frequent clashes between deserters and government troops.

After a meeting in Cairo with the league’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, the council’s head Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun said the monitors’ mission was not simply to observe but to stop the killing.

He claimed that the government was holding more than 100,000 detainees, “some of them in military barracks and aboard ships off the . . . coast”. The number he gave is far greater than the estimate of 14,000 cited by the UN and activists resident in Syria.

The opposition has stepped up pressure on the league to remove the head of the monitoring team, Lt Gen Mustafa Dabi, a former head of Sudanese military intelligence.

He angered activists by saying that the situation was “calm” and not “frightening” in Homs on the mission’s first day of operations. So far, the league has stood behind him. Amnesty International has accused the general of being responsible for human rights abuses in Sudan during the early 1990s.

Regime opponents using Facebook and Twitter have called for mass rallies today after communal Muslim prayers. The Syria Revolution 2011, a Sweden-based website affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, said: “We will march as we did in Homs and Hama where we carried olive branches only to be confronted by [regime] gangs who struck us with artillery and machinegun fire.”

Some activists in Syria have proposed demonstrating bare-chested.