Friday, December 30, 2011

Bloody Friday in Syria

As with the revolutions in other Arab countries, a pattern develops where people gather in the public square after Friday afternoon prayers in the local Mosques.

Today will probably be a bloody Friday in Syria, as the revolution continues.

The BBC's Allan Little: How impartial can these monitors be when some of their own governments are also cracking down on similar uprisings?

Syrian activists have called for massive street demonstrations on Friday against President Bashar al-Assad, as Arab observers continue their mission.

Correspondents say the presence of the monitors has emboldened the protesters, despite further killings.

Up to 40 died on Thursday, activists said, mostly after security forces shot at crowds gathered in areas expecting a visit from the Arab team.

At least 5,000 are believed to have died since the revolt began in March.

The Arab League peace plan calls for a complete halt to the violence, the withdrawal of all armed forces and the release of all detainees.

The Arab mission has faced criticism for being led by Sudan's Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, who Amnesty International has accused of carrying out human rights violations in his own country.

But the League says Gen Dabi has full support, and the US has urged detractors to allow the team to finish its work.

'Olive branches'
Activists have called for massive protests on Friday - the traditional day of demonstration.

"On Friday we will march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested," the Syria Revolution 2011 Facebook group said, according to the Associated Press.

"We will march as we did in Homs and Hama where we carried olive branches only to be confronted by [President Bashar al-Assad's] gangs who struck us with artillery and machinegun fire."

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Arab League's initiative is "the only ray of light" there is for Syrians.

"The presence of the observers in Homs broke the barrier of fear," he told AFP.

One activist in Hama told Reuters: "We know that just because they are here, it doesn't mean the bloodshed will stop. But at least they will see it".

Correspondents say that despite the presence of the Arab monitors - who are being escorted by state security officials - there has been little let-up in the ferocity of the response to protests.

At least 120 people have died since observers arrived in the country on Monday, according to activists.

The monitors have travelled to the central province of Homs, Idlib in the north, Deraa in the south, Hama and then the capital, Damascus.

On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least four people were killed when security forces opened fire outside a mosque in Douma, a suburb of Damascus.

Monitors were arriving at the city hall there when security forces fired on "tens of thousands" of protesters outside the Grand Mosque, the UK-based group said.

It reported further deaths in other suburbs of the capital - Aarbin and Kiswah - as well as in Idlib and Hama.

The US State Department said it was concerned by the continuing violence.

More than 5,000 civilians have been killed, says the UN
UN denied access to Syria

Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrian nationals who have fled
The death toll is compiled as a list of names which the UN cross-references
Vast majority of casualties were unarmed, but the figure may include armed defectors
Tally does not include serving members of the security forces
Source: UN's OHCHR

Controversy over Sudan's role
"We are concerned that even though we have monitors on the ground, and they are playing a role in some places, we also have the continuation of the violence," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Casualty figures and other information are hard to verify as most foreign media are barred from Syria.

The Arab mission is headed by Gen Dabi, whose appointment has roused controversy due to his role as military intelligence chief in Sudan in the 1990s.

Gen Dabi worked for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions over Darfur.

One Arab League official in Cairo told AP that Gen Dabi had the support of all its members, saying: "The mission and its final report will decide the future of Syria and this is not a small matter."

Head of monitors in Syria says "good so far"

By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT | Mon Dec 26, 2011 10:36am EST

(Reuters) - The head of the Arab League's monitoring mission seeking an end to violent repression in Syria said on Monday he met several government officials who have been cooperative and said access had been unfettered "so far."

Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, who arrived in Damascus on Saturday, is leading a team of observers that will check whether Syria is implementing part of an Arab peace plan requiring it to pull out of civilian areas and put an end to bloodshed.

The nine-month protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad's rule has been increasingly mired in violence as security forces crush revolt and armed insurgent are now fighting back.

"We are in Damascus now and have started our mission and will head to other cities faster than you think," Dabi told Reuters by telephone. "Our Syrian brothers are cooperating very well and without any restrictions so far."

Fifty monitors will arrive on Monday and will be divided into teams of ten for observation missions. Some members of the delegation said they planned to visit the flashpoint city of Homs on Tuesday. Residents and activists say Homs has been under heavy machinegun and mortar fire for days, killing dozens.

Dabi said the Syrians would be providing transportation for the monitoring mission, a move which may rile the anti-Assad opposition and spark accusations of censorship.

Arab League delegates have said they will try to maintain an element of surprise by only announcing the specific areas they would visit on the same day of their departure.

The general said he had already met the foreign minister and his deputy, as well as several officials from the armed forces.

He warned those watching the mission not to jump to conclusions about the results of the monitoring mission.

"Give us some time, we just got here."

Outrage over comments

Beirut: The head of an Arab League observer mission came under fire for describing conditions in the strife-torn Syrian city of Homs as "nothing frightening" despite the release of amateur footage that seemed to show monitors witnessing gunfire and meeting with victims of a violent crackdown against dissent.

International human rights groups had questioned the selection of General Mohammad Ahmad Al Dabi, a former Sudanese military intelligence chief, to lead the mission, saying Sudan's defiance of an international war crimes tribunal made him unlikely to take a tough stance against abuses committed by a fellow Arab state.

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands for alleged crimes against humanity committed in Sudan's Western Darfur region. Opposition activists said Al Dabi's comments confirmed their fears that the mission would be a waste of time and only provide cover for more bloodshed.

"These guys are all from the same system," said Rami Nakhle, a member of the country's most prominent opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council. "Do we really need observers to confirm that crimes against humanity are being committed in Syria?"

League officials have said Al Dabi has the military and diplomatic background required for the mission and have asked for more time to show what can be accomplished.

But, the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups say the mission is too small to monitor trouble spots across a country of about 22 million people. The League had wanted to send 500 observers to Syria to monitor the regional initiative calling for the withdrawal of security forces from cities and other residential areas, the release of political prisoners, and dialogue with the opposition.

But, so far only 60 observers have travelled to the country, with a promise of about 90 more to come. As the observers began their mission on Tuesday in Homs, a city at the epicentre of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's government, residents charged that the armed forces were hiding tanks in school and government compounds. Security forces later fired tear gas and live rounds at tens of thousands of demonstrators who tried to rally in the city's main square, activists said.

‘Reassuring situation'

"Some places looked a bit of a mess, but there was nothing frightening," Al Dabi was quoted as saying by Reuters on Wednesday morning. "The situation seemed reassuring so far," he said. "Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armoured vehicles. But remember, this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time."

The comments provoked outrage among opposition supporters in Homs — where residents had reportedly endured days of shelling before the monitors arrived — and on social media sites. "They clearly have no idea what is happening on the ground," said an activist who goes by the name of Abu Rami. "Their presence did not help us in any way. We thought it would provide us some form of protection. That's why we went out yesterday to demonstrate, and we were fired at. This alone shows that they did not play their role."

The same day, activists posted amateur footage on YouTube that appeared to show some of the monitors taking cover amid a burst of gunfire in Baba Amro. Another video purportedly showed residents laying the shrouded body of a 5-year-old boy on the hood of one of their cars. Activists said the child had been shot in the back at a checkpoint.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces have killed more than 500 people since the government signed a protocol for the observer mission on December 19. As many as 14 were killed on Wednesday alone, including five in the Homs region, according to the Local Coordination Committees, another opposition group. The figures could not be independently verified.

No comments:

Post a Comment