Syrian tanks leave Homs as Arab monitors arrive

After 34 killed in restive city, 11 tanks seen leaving and other tanks being hidden from Arab League monitors, activists say.

By REUTERS
December 27, 2011 11:27
2 minute read.
Syrian soldiers man tank (illustrative)

Syrian Tank 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BEIRUT - Syrian army tanks were seen pulling out of Homs on Tuesday as a team of Arab League peace monitors headed for a first look at the protest hotbed city where 34 people were reported killed in the previous 24 hours.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited reports from opposition activists in Homs saying at least 11 tanks had left a district they attacked on Monday, and that other tanks were being hidden.

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Opponents of President Bashar Assad say districts of Syria's third biggest city have been hammered by government troops and tanks in recent days, with the Baba Amr neighborhood taking a pounding from tank fire, mortars and heavy machineguns.

"My house is on the eastern entrance of Baba Amr. I saw at least six tanks leave the neighborhood at around 8 in the morning (0600 GMT)," Homs activist Mohamed Saleh told Reuters by telephone. "I do not know if more remain in the area."

Amateur video recorded by activists on Monday showed tanks prowling around Baba Amr, firing at unseen targets. Video showed gruesome pictures of mangled bodies in the wreckage of building that bore the signs of shelling.

Arab League monitors were expected to see for themselves whether Assad is keeping his promise to cease military action against anti-government protests that began in March. At least 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by a UN count.

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"We are on our way to Homs, we are about to arrive," the head of monitoring mission Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi told Reuters by telephone.

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Assad's opponents fear that the monitors - who arrived in the country on Monday after weeks of negotiations with Arab states - will be used as a cloak of respectability for a government that will hide the extent of violence.

The launch of the monitoring mission marks the first international intervention on the ground in Syria since the revolt broke out nine months ago. The government quickly cracked down on protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

The first 50 of an eventual 150 monitors arrived on Monday. They will be split into five teams of 10. The teams will use government transport, according to Dabi, a move likely to fuel charges by the anti-Assad opposition that the monitoring mission will be impeded and hoodwinked from the outset.

Arab League delegates insist the mission will nevertheless maintain the "element of surprise" and be able to go wherever it chooses with no notice.

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