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Terrorism & Security

See no evil? Activists doubt credibility of Arab League mission to Syria.

Activists are concerned that Arab League observers could leave Syria with a falsely favorable report because of government cover-up and a tainted head of mission.

By Staff writer / December 28, 2011

An image made from amateur video and released by Ugarit News Group Tuesday, purporting to show a Syrian military tank in Homs, Syria. Activists worry that Syria will be able to hide their activities from Arab League observers, and earn a falsely favorable report.

Ugarit News Group via APTN/AP

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Arab League observers are touring Syria's most tense cities to ensure the government is withdrawing the Army and bringing an end to widespread bloodshed. But activists are expressing great skepticism about the mission's ability and willingness to accurately gauge the situation on the ground.

Because the observers represent the first international intervention in the country and the foreign press remains largely barred, the mission is a rare window into circumstances on the ground, where the United Nations estimates more than 5,000 have died. If the mission returns with a falsely favorable report, it could raise further obstacles to bringing the violence to an end.

At the end of a visit Tuesday to Homs, the country's third largest city and one of the focal points of the uprising, the head of the mission called the situation "reassuring so far," BBC reports. He did, however, acknowledge that there were some places where the situation was "not good."

Activists estimate that a third of the 5,000 deaths in the uprising have occurred in Homs, dozens of them in the past week, according to Reuters.

Video reports, which cannot be independently verified, have shown parts of Homs looking like a war zone. Constant machinegun and sniper fire is audible.... The military withdrew some tanks shortly before the monitors arrived, in what the activists called a ploy to persuade the monitors that the city was calm. Video on the Internet showed monitors confronted by residents imploring them to venture further into Baba Amr as gunfire crackled around them. 

About 70,000 protesters marched through the streets of Homs Tuesday in a district of the city that monitors have not yet reached. Elsewhere in the city, residents begged monitors to visit the hard hit neighborhood of Baba Amr. About 20 observers will remain in Homs to investigate further.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said that, according to a Syrian security officer, the government is moving hundreds of detainees to military sites to keep them out of the observers' sight. One of the government's conditions for the mission was that observers not be allowed to visit "sensitive" military sites, CNN reports. The security officer also told HRW that the government has issued troops police identification cards and paperwork transferring them from the defense ministry to the interior ministry so that it appears as if the Army has been withdrawn from cities.

Reuters reports that, according to Syrian state TV, 755 detainees "whose hands were not stained with Syrian blood" were released today.

Developments like those have raised alarm that the Syrian government may create a convincing facade of calm while the observers are in the country, only to resume its crackdown when the mission departs.

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