Killings in Homs fuel skepticism over Syria peace accord

Syrian forces reportedly killed as many as seven people in Homs today, just one day after Syria agreed to a peace accord that called for withdrawing tanks from the streets.

Anti-government protesters pray next to the bodies of people who were among the Sunni Muslims killed on Wednesday, in Hula near Homs November 2. Syrian activists said on Wednesday that security forces shot dead at least 11 villagers at a roadblock near Homs.

Syrian forces have reportedly killed as many as seven people in Homs, less than a day after Damascus agreed to withdraw its tanks from the streets under an Arab League plan to end the upheaval in Syria. The continuing violence has further fueled international skepticism over Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's commitment to peace and raised concerns that the Arab League agreement lacks any enforcement clause.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Syrian tanks mounted with machine guns killed four people in the city of Homs Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Syrian Observatory chief Rami Abdul-Rahman said the tally was gathered from witnesses in the city.  

Activists also posted video of tanks firing on a building, reportedly in Homs today, according to the Guardian's live Syria blog, though it is not possible to authenticate the video since Syria is largely closed to foreign and independent journalists.

The ongoing attacks in Homs appear to violate the Arab League plan that Syria agreed to yesterday. The Daily Star of Lebanon summarizes the plan's main points as follows:

1: - Complete halt to the violence, whatever its origin, to protect Syrian civilians.

2: - Release of people detained as a result of the recent events.

3: - Withdrawal of every type of military presence from towns and residential districts.

4: - Allow concerned organizations from the Arab League, Arab and international media to move freely throughout Syria and find out the reality of the situation.

But Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defense University in Norfolk, Va., and member of the opposition Syrian National Council, told PBS Newshour Wednesday night that the plan to resolve the conflict "sounds very nice, but it's not going to happen."

The Assad regime has made many promises to many interlocutors before, including the U.N. secretary-general, including the prime minister of Turkey, including the king of Jordan, and these promises have never materialized into anything. So, I believe this is simply a measure to buy time on behalf of the Assad regime. ...

Look, two hours ago, there have been the first violations of this commitment, in that the Bab al-Amr neighborhood in Homs and the city of Latakia have been shelled. So, we simply don't believe it.

Bassam Jaara, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, echoed Mr. Jouejati's sentiments, reports the Guardian.  "The regime was forced to accept this initiative but it will not implement it," he said.

Daniel Serwer, a former US diplomat and current professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, writes on his blog that President Assad was happy to agree to the Arab League plan because "it requires nothing verifiable of Damascus except to talk with its opposition." And to Assad's further benefit, Mr. Serwer notes, the plan may fracture the opposition.

Bashar al Assad has said he is willing to [talk to the opposition] from the first.  But there aren’t many protesters willing to do it, unless there is a prior agreement that they are talking about transition arrangements.  If the protesters refuse the dialogue, Bashar will continue the crackdown.

Even better from Bashar’s point of view if some of the protesters accept and others do not.  Then he will have succeeded in splitting them.  He’ll get some nice photo ops with the dialoguers while going after the others again.  The opposition was already having troubles unifying its disparate forces.  Accepting the Arab League plan is a neat maneuver to make that even more difficult.

Time Magazine's Rania Abouzeid writes that Syria's implementation is "the catch" to the  Arab League plan's success.  Ms. Abouzeid notes that without any enforcement clause, the plan's success depends on the Assad regime's will to implement it, and Syria has shown no willingness to commit to similar peace arrangements in the past.

It's not the first time that the Arab League has given the Syrian regime a window to end its ferocious campaign against pro-democracy protesters. A two-week timetable to do so recently came and went with no consequences for Damascus. Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Assad's once formidable ally, has also huffed and puffed and warned Syria to end its repression, but to no avail. In fact, the League put forward an almost identical plan months earlier that was rejected by Damascus. Why was it accepted now?

The bottom line is that without an "or else" clause — which this deal apparently lacks — the success or failure of any agreement is likely to rest entirely on the Syrian regime's will to comply. The most the Arab League could muster on Wednesday in terms of a warning, was the threat to hold another meeting if Assad ignores them. NATO this week also reiterated that it had no plans to intervene in Syria, under any circumstances.

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