- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

BEIRUT — Tens of thousands of defiant Syrian protesters thronged the streets of Homs Tuesday, calling for the execution of President Bashar Assad shortly after his army pulled its tanks back and allowed Arab League monitors in for the first time to the city at the heart of the anti-government uprising.

The pullback was the first sign the regime was complying with the League’s plan to end the 9-month-old crackdown on mostly unarmed and peaceful protesters.

Yet amateur video released by activists showed forces firing on protesters even while the monitors were inside the city. One of the observers walked with an elderly man who pointed with his cane to a fresh pool of blood on the street that he said had been shed by his son, killed a day earlier.

The man, wearing a red-and-white checkered headdress, then called for the monitor to walk ahead to “see the blood of my second son” also killed in the onslaught.


“Where is justice? Where are the Arabs?” the old man shouted in pain.

A Syrian Kurdish boy carries a banner during a protest outside the Arab League office in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. The protesters said the Arab League was not serious in attempts to stop the Syrian regime crackdown. A man behind the boy was carrying a poster of President Bashar Assad of Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A Syrian Kurdish boy carries a banner during a protest outside the ... more >

Syrian tanks had been heavily shelling Homs for days, residents and activists said, killing dozens even after Assad signed on early last week to the Arab League plan, which demands the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.

But a few hours before the arrival of the monitors, who began work Tuesday to ensure Syria complies with the League’s plan, the army stopped the bombardment and pulled some of its tanks back.

The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that government forces fired on protesters while the monitors were inside Homs and said at two people were killed from the fire.

About 60 monitors arrived in Syria Monday night — the first foreign observers Syria has allowed in since March, when the uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule began. The League said a team of 12 visited Homs.

After agreeing to the League’s pullback plan on Dec. 19, the regime intensified its crackdown on dissent; government troops killed hundreds in the past week and Syria was condemned internationally for flouting the spirit of the agreement.

On Monday alone, security forces killed at least 42 people, most of them in Homs. Activists said security forces killed at least 16 people Tuesday, including six in Homs.

One group put Tuesday’s toll at 30, including 13 in Homs province. Different groups often give varying tolls. With foreign journalists and human rights groups barred from the country, they are virtually impossible to verify.

Amateur videos show residents of Homs pleading with the visiting monitors for protection.

“We are unarmed people who are dying,” one resident shouts to one observer. Seconds later, shooting is heard from a distance as someone else screams: “We are being slaughtered here.”

Given the intensified crackdown over the past week, the opposition has viewed Syria’s agreement to the Arab League plan as a farce. Some even accuse the organization of 22 states of complicity in the killings. Activists say the regime is trying to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

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