Thousands of demonstraters gathered in Homs as Arab League peace monitors arrived in the city late Monday. The delegation is tasked with ensuring that Syrian President al-Assad fulfills his pledge to withdraw his troops from the city, free political prisoners, and begin a dialogue with regime opponents. Although much rests on the shoulders of the monitors, there are concerns that the mission may not yield even a temporary cessation in the violence, much less a conclusion to the nine-months of bloody clashes between the ruling regime and protesters.
The siege of Homs
Earlier on Monday, 33 people died when government troops shelled parts of the city, causing massive damages to buildings. The deaths seemed to confirm to analysts that Bashar al-Assad is using the Arab League accord to stall continued foreign interference while the crackdown on protesters continues. The United States has condemned what it sees as a deliberate escalation of attacks against protesters, an opportunistic move on the part of the Syrian government prior to the arrival of the Arab League monitors.
The French Foreign Ministry has also condemned repression by the regime, and has demanded that the Syrian government allow the Arab monitors full independence, freedom and access to the city of Homs.
The days-long siege of Homs has left many neighborhoods without food, water, or electricity. The worst conflict and ongoing violence has been taking place in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. An amateur video that has been surfacing on various news sources shows citizens pleading with the Arab League monitors to venture deeper into the neighborhood to witness violence by the government.
The Syrian government pulled back its armored troops from the streets of the city prior to the arrival of the peace monitors, but London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the tanks and troops are simply concealed in government buildings, and could be redeployed within minutes to cause further violence.
The head of the Arab mission, Sudan’s General Mustafa al-Dabi said that Syrian authorities had insofar been “very co-operative.”
Doubts about Arab League’s effectiveness
The Syrian government claims it will cooperate fully with the Arab League delegation, but the monitors rely on the regime for transportation and protection, and their every move must be reported to the government. Analysts believe al-Assad intends to whitewash violent neighborhoods before they arrive. A spokesperson for the Arab League dismissed such concerns.
“We have military experts who know all the tricks and will be able to know whether there are any violations.”
Among such military experts is Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi, whose appointment as the leader of the Arab delegation has caused great alarm among activists who cite Sudan’s own defiance of human rights conventions. Critics say it is impossible to imagine the general recommending strong intervention to respond to these abuses in a fellow Arab state. Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, states that al-Dabi’s appointment “doesn’t make any sense unless you want to shape the finding. [The Arab League] want it shaped in ways that will minimise the obligation to do more than they already have.”
Joshua Landis, director of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, says that the Arab League’s planned 200 monitors “are not going to bring [the Syrian conflict] to an end, or even a temporary standstill.”
Report: Syria unrest: Protest in Homs as peace monitors arrive [BBC News, 27 December 2011]
Report: Syria Observers Urged to Hurry to Homs, Where Death Toll Keeps Rising [New York Times, 26 December 2011]
Report: Syrian Tanks Withdraw as Arab Monitors Arrive to Stem Violence [Bloomberg Businessweek, 27 December 2011]
Report: Activists alarmed over Syria mission's Sudanese head [Reuters, 28 December 2011]
Report: Monitors Reach Roiling Syria [Wall Street Journal, 27 December 2011]