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Arab League observers head to Syria's war-ravaged Homs

A day after reports of heavy fighting and dozens killed in Homs, Arab League observers are heading to the city as a part of an effort to end the fighting in Syria.

By Correspondent / December 27, 2011

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather during a march through the streets, after Friday prayers in Deir Balaba near Homs. Arab League monitors are going to war-ravaged Homs to verify that Syrian forces have ceased the violence against its citizens.

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A day after reports of dozens killed in the restive Syrian city of Homs, Arab League monitors are now headed there for the first time.

The monitors arrived in Syria on Monday as part of an Arab League deal to see if Syrian government forces are relenting in their crackdown on protesters, as promised. Since the uprising began in mid-March, the nation has remained virtually shut off from outsiders, with foreign press and international observers obtaining only the most limited access to the country.

The Arab League monitors are a step towards shining more light on the uprising, but it remains unclear if they will have any practical impact. The observers say the Syrian government has so far proved "very cooperative," but it is uncertain if they will get a complete picture of the violence.

“I am going to Homs. (Until) now, they have been very cooperative,” Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, the head of the Arab League monitoring mission, was quoted by Iran's Press TV as saying.

The mission, which will eventually number 200 observers, will be divided into groups of ten and sent around the country to verify that Syrian forces are complying with the agreement they made to stop violence, release detainees, and remove armed forces from urban areas, reports Xinhua. Gen. Dabi told reporters that his team has not faced any restrictions so far. In addition to Homs, the monitors are expected to visit Damascus, Hama, Idlib, and other cities.

Still, the BBC reports that while Syrian officials have appeared compliant, there are already allegations of a cover-up.

“In advance of the observers' arrival, activists accused the authorities of moving detainees onto military bases - where the observers are not allowed to go - and also of removing hundreds of bodies of killed protesters from the morgue at Homs,” said the BBC’s Jim Muir.

In the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, activists told reporters and human rights organizations that Syrian forces pulled 11 tanks from the area and hid others ahead of the Arab monitors’ arrival, reports Reuters. Yesterday at least 34 people were reported killed there. The neighborhood reportedly took fire from tanks, mortars, and heavy machine guns.

Opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, said that while the Arab League monitors are allowed in Homs, authorities have placed limitations on where they are able to go, Al Jazeera reports. To truly enforce the Arab peace plan, he said the Arab League must receive the support and cooperation of the United Nations.

“The 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. “It is better if the UN Security Council takes this plan, adopts it and provides the means for its application.”

Since the uprising began in mid-March, the UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have died in the violence, Bloomberg reports. Violence intensified when soldiers began defecting from the Syrian army to side with protesters. The Syrian government has blamed the violence on foreign agents who’ve entered the country and are carrying out terrorist operations, reports Bloomberg.

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