Syrian forces reenter Homs as weekly death toll tops 100

Mideast media skeptical Arab League plan can stem bloodshed; Lebanese Alawite community eyes developments with concern.

Syrian tank in Hama 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian tank in Hama 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad reentered the central city of Homs on Monday, killing at least two people, activists said. The city – a hotbed of anti-regime activity – has been under a six-day tank bombardment that has killed more than 100 people over the past week.
Anti-government protesters in Homs’ Bab Amro neighborhood have been bolstered by army defectors, a steadily growing number of whom are joining the nearly eight-month- old uprising.
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“They are storming houses now and arresting people, but not many are left in Bab Amro. The shabbiha [pro- Assad militia] have brought pick-up trucks and are looting buildings,” an activist told Reuters.
In neighboring Lebanon, the country’s small Alawite community, somewhere around 100,000 people, are watching the Syrian crisis with concern.
“Syria is our neighbor, our brother, our mother,” Abdul Latif Saleh, the mayor of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood of Tripoli, told AFP. “We will never forget the sacrifices the Syrian army made in Lebanon and we are behind the Syrian regime because they alone confronted the United States and Israel.”
“We will stand by President Bashar Assad to the end and as everyone can see he is introducing reforms,” one resident said.
“What is really going on in Syria is not at all what you see on television,” added another resident. “There is a conspiracy against President Assad... The Muslim Brotherhood and saboteurs are fighting to bring down Syria.”
But pro-Assad voices are becoming increasingly scarce in the Middle East. Last week the Arab League announced a plan it said could help end the bloodshed, but Arabic and Turkish media were almost unanimously skeptical the initiative – which Damascus said it would accept – would have any effect on the regime’s conduct.
Tariq Al-Homayed, editor of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, wrote: “Those following the Syrian situation should ask themselves whether the aim of the proposed Arab initiative is to save Al-Assad’s regime or to safeguard Syria and protect the people from Al-Assad’s killing machine?”
“We hope the proposal will be implemented in earnest, including ending the violence and the killing of protesters, the release of prisoners and the removal of armed protests from the cities,” Al- Homayed wrote, according to the global news aggregation and translation service, BBC Monitoring.
The Arab League proposal would have the government withdraw its forces from Syrian cities, release political prisoners and holds talks with opposition figures.
Writing in Turkey’s Radikal newspaper, Fehim Tastekin noted, “At this critical juncture, Damascus has accepted the Arab League plan for a way out. From the perspective of the dissidents’ front, the plan will give Assad time. On the other hand, the plan [if it is not implemented] will remove any Arab obstacles to a possible foreign intervention. It would be impossible to intervene without the approval of the Arab League.”
Mehmet Ali Birand, writing in Istanbul’s Posta daily, presented Syria’s future in starker terms: “Assad seems to be in control of the situation as he seems to have managed to unite his supporters. Even Ankara, which until a short time ago was saying Assad ‘will fall in a few weeks,’ is now talking about a period of several years.”
Organs of the Syrian state media were among the only regional news outlets to portray the Arab initiative positively.
Muhammad Al-Khidr, writing in Al-Ba’th newspaper, said: “The agreement between Syria and the Arab League ends a painful phase that the Syrians have been through in the past eight months. More importantly, it spares the homeland the possibility of international interference that was gradually emerging... the Syrians realize that Syria is the main winner in this deal.”