Waiting for truth to be unveiled: Arab monitors visit Syrian hot spot
DAMASCUS – Syrian authorities fired tear gas on some 70,000 demonstrators who tried to march on a large square in Homs on Tuesday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"More than 70,000 demonstrators tried to enter Al-Saa square in the centre of the city of Homs, while the security agents used tear gas to disperse them," said the Britain-based Observatory.
The protest comes as Arab League observers visited the flashpoint central city to monitor a deal to end a deadly nine-month crackdown on anti-regime protests.
On its Facebook page, the Observatory said separate demonstrations were held elsewhere in the city, aimed at "exposing the ill practices and crimes of the regime" to the visiting Arab League delegation.
Following the killings of civilians in Baba Amr on Monday, residents held a funeral in the nearby Kefer Ayia for some of those who died, but were fired on by security services, according to the Observatory.
The official SANA news agency reported meanwhile that saboteurs had blown up a gas pipeline in Homs province, where Assad's regime has for months been trying to crush dissent and mutinous soldiers.
A team of Arab League observers headed by veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi had earlier arrived in Homs and held talks with governor Ghassan Abdel Al.
"Till now, they have been very cooperative," Dabi said by telephone.
Syria's Dunia television reported that the observers also visited the Bab Sebaa neighbourhood of Homs, where they "assessed the damage carried out by terrorist groups.
"They also met with relatives of martyrs and a person who had been abducted" by these groups, said Dunia, which is close to the regime, adding that many people decried the "conspiracy against Syria" to the monitors.
The observers are also due to travel to two other protest hubs -- the central city of Hama and Idlib in the northwest, close to the border with Turkey, the television added, without giving a timetable.
Ahead of the observers' arrival in Homs, the army pulled back heavy armour from the Baba Amro neighbourhood of the city, scene of much of the violence, the Observatory said.
Eleven tanks pulled out around 7:00 am (0500 GMT), its chairman, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
The observer mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that calls for the withdrawal of security forces from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
Since signing the deal, President Assad's regime has been accused of intensifying a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests, which have shown no signs of abating since they erupted in mid-March.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have lost their lives.
The bloodshed in Homs has sparked a mounting international outcry and opposition calls for foreign intervention.
The leader of opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghaliun, urged UN and Arab League intervention "to put an end to this tragedy," and called on the UN Security Council to "adopt the Arab League's plan and ensure that it is applied."
"It is better if the UN Security Council takes this (Arab League) plan, adopts and provides the means for its application," Ghaliun said. "That would give it more force."
The Arab "plan to defuse the crisis is a good plan, but I do not believe the Arab League really has the means" to enforce it, he said.
"The observers are working in conditions that the Arab League has described as not being good... I think we have not properly negotiated the working conditions of the observers," Ghaliun added.
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said the observer "mission has freedom of movement in line with the protocol" Syria signed with the Arab League.
Under that deal, the observers are banned from sensitive military sites.
The Observatory charged that the authorities had changed road signs in Idlib province to confuse the observers, and urged them to contact human rights activists on the ground.
Opposition groups have said the observers must stop their work if they are blocked by the authorities from travelling to places like Homs.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said he expects the observers to vindicate his government's contention that "armed terrorists" are behind the violence.
Western governments and human rights watchdogs blame Assad's regime for the bloodshed.
Opposition leaders charge that Syria agreed to the mission after weeks of prevarication in a "ploy" to head off a threat by the 22-member League to go to the UN Security Council over the crackdown.
The observers will eventually number between 150 and 200, Arab League officials say.