DAMASCUS - Despite reports of a deadly crackdown by President Bashar Al-Assad's troops, the head of An Arab League mission monitoring the situation in Syria has seen nothing frightening in the protest hotbed of Homs.
"Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening," Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, the chief of the monitoring contingent, told Reuters by telephone from Damascus on Wednesday, December 28.
"The situation seemed reassuring so far."
The remarks came shortly after an Arab monitoring delegation visited the city of Homs to assess Syria's compliance with Arab plan to end the unrest in the country.
"Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armored vehicles, Dabi said.
But remember this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time."
Activists say about a third of the estimated 5,000 people killed in unrest in Syria since the crackdown began in March died at the hands of security forces in Homs.
Dozens have been reported killed in the past week.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group, said security forces killed 15 people across the country Tuesday, six of them in Homs, coinciding with the monitors' visit.
The monitors, including Dabi, were escorted by Syrian authorities into Homs and shown destruction in the restive district of Baba Amr, where Syrian tanks were filmed firing into residential areas the day before, according to amateur video recorded by activists.
Video reports, which cannot be independently verified, have shown parts of Homs looking like a war zone.
Constant machinegun and sniper fire is audible and corpses are mangled by blasts. Tanks have been filmed shelling anti-Assad targets in Baba Amr.
But Analysts and residents cast doubts on the credibility of the Arab monitoring mission.
"The monitoring mission has a credibility issue now and whether they are able to access areas in the next two or three days will tell us whether they can be in any way effective," Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters.
"There is a healthy dose of skepticism here in terms of what they are going to be able to achieve."
Critics say the monitors may well be hoodwinked by their Syrian hosts, who could clear cities ahead of their arrival before sending troops back in once monitors have gone.
"I am afraid that the monitoring team might unintentionally turn into a false witness," said Waheed Abdel Maguid, an expert at Cairo's Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
He added that he feared the monitors will blame violence from both sides."
Many were surprised by the mission leader, Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi.
He has experience liaising between Khartoum and peacekeepers in Sudan, but critics question whether he can be a neutral witness given his military background in a country riven by rebellions and frequently accused of rights abuses.
"The Arab League doesn't have anything more to offer, Abdel Maguid said.
It is dragging its feet, not to defend the Syrian regime but to delay international interference. It is coming sometime."
Syrians themselves also doubt the monitoring mission will herald a change of tack by Assad's government.
"We can't rely on the Arab League. The only one we can turn to is God, said Tamir, a Syrian construction worker, cowering in his basement.We've been bearing this for 10 months and they keep giving the government extensions and now finally they brought monitors and then what? More extensions? Until we all die?"