'Syrians refuse to meet monitors in hotspot area'

By REUTERS
December 28, 2011 16:03

Arab League monitors withdraw from area, won't enter Homs neighborhood without being escorted by Lt.-Col. Mudeen Neda.

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Anti-Assad protest in Homs, Syria

Anti-Assad protest in Homs 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT - Syrians in a flash-point area of the city of Homs refused to meet Arab League monitors in the presence of a Syrian army officer, prompting the observers to withdraw from the area, activists said on Wednesday.

"The monitors left the Baba Amr neighborhood because they refused to enter the neighborhood without being escorted by Lieutenant Colonel Mudeen Neda from the Fourth Division," said Ahmed, a local activist and resident of Baba Amr.

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"The families of the martyrs and the wounded refused to meet them in his presence, and the monitors left," he said.

Earlier, live footage carried on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above Syria's central city of Hama on Wednesday as dozens of men marched through the streets chanting "Where are the Arab monitors".

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending a military crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit the city on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from his neck as protesters shouted in the background.

State television Syria TV said Wednesday that Syria has released 755 people detained during the nine-month revolt against President Bashar Assad, .

"Syrian authorities released 755 detained in recent events whose hands were not stained with Syrian blood," the station said in a news flash.

Also on Wednesday, Syrian television channel Addounia reported that the head of the Arab League monitoring team told its reporter in Homs that the observers saw gunmen in the flashpoint city.

"Yes...we saw gunmen in the city of Homs," the news flash quoted him as saying.

The head of an Arab League mission investigating if Syria is following a peace plan has said earlier that day that he saw "nothing frightening" in the flashpoint city of Homs but many residents said they were already losing trust in the monitors.



Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi said his team needed more time to inspect Homs before giving a final verdict, but residents in the hard-hit Baba Amr district where the team took an initial tour said they felt monitors were not responding to their grievances.

"There were some places where the situation was not good," Dabi told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday. "But there wasn't anything frightening, at least while we were there. Things were calm and there were no clashes."

Homs is the heart of the nine-month uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule and has become one of its bloodiest hotspots as armed rebels emerge to fight government tanks and machine guns.

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The monitors are checking to see if Syria is withdrawing its troops from cities and halting the violence that has threatened to spiral into civil war.

Activists said they showed the team buildings riddled with bullets and mortar rounds and pointed out what they said were tanks but only had two hours to give them a tour.

"I felt they didn't really acknowledge what they'd seen - maybe they had orders not to show sympathy. But they didn't seem enthusiastic about hearing people tell their stories," said Baba Amr resident and activist Omar. "We felt like we were shouting into a void."

Dabi said his team did not see tanks but they did see some armored vehicles. He said his team planned to visit Baba Amr again.

"The situation seemed reassuring so far," he said. "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."

Mohammed Saleh, an activist in Homs told Reuters on Tuesday that the army had pulled tanks away from the perimeter of Baba Amr in what critics said was a move to hoodwink monitors.

Residents in Baba Amr were angry that they could not convince the monitors to go into the worst-hit neighborhoods of the district, he said.


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