DAMASCUS - A group of Arab league peace monitors headed on Tuesday, December 27, to the flashpoint city of Homs to assess whether Syria has halted its nine-month crackdown on protests, following reports about a new massacre in the city.
"We are on our way to Homs, we are about to arrive," Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi, who is heading the monitoring mission, told Reuters by telephone.
The mission, which arrived in Syria late on Monday, is the first international intervention on the ground in Syria since the revolt broke out and the government cracked down on the protests, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
It came as part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that calls for the withdrawal of security forces from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
Moreover, the monitors will be assigned to check prisons, hospitals and open dialogue with the Syrian government's opponents.
The mission includes 150 Arab observers of which 50 so far are in Syria. They will split into five teams of 10 each.
Ahead of the observers' arrival, the Syrian army pulled back heavy armor from the Baba Amro neighborhood of the city, scene of much of the violence, a human rights watchdog said.
Eleven tanks pulled out around 7:00 am (0500 GMT), Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Peaceful protests against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March.
The Assad regime's crackdown on dissent has hit Homs particularly hard and activists say a great number of defecting soldiers have set up camp there to protect protesters.
The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests. Syrian authorities blame armed groups for the violence, saying they have killed 2,000 soldiers and police.
The visit comes as opposition activists uploaded a horrific video on YouTube on Monday showing the bloodied and broken bodies of four men lay in a rubble-strewn street, near downed power lines and damaged cars.
"Where are the Arabs? Where is the international community?" a man's voice yelled over women's screams, Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.
According to opposition activists, the video was evidence of the carnage in parts of the western Syrian city of Homs on Monday.
There was no immediate comment from the government, which blames the bloodshed on what it describes as foreign-backed terrorists.
Most international journalists have been barred from Syria, making it impossible to confirm the claims of either the government or opposition activists.
The bloodshed in Homs has sparked a mounting international outcry and opposition calls for foreign intervention.
The leader of opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghaliun, called for UN and Arab League intervention "to put an end to this tragedy," and called on the UN Security Council to "adopt the Arab League's plan and ensure that it is applied."
"It is better if the UN Security Council takes this (Arab League) plan, adopts and provides the means for its application," Ghaliun said. "That would give it more force."
The Arab "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.
"The observers are working in conditions that the Arab League has described as not being good. ... I think we have not properly negotiated the working conditions of the observers," Ghaliun added.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net