Foreign monitors energize Syrian protests
In the northern Idlib province, some 150,000 protesters took to the streets — more than on any other day recently, the Observatory said.
“The presence of monitors is a source of comfort to the Syrian street and breaks the barrier of fear for those who were hesitant about protesting,” said Abdul-Rahman.
Although the violence against protesters has not stopped, he said the death toll would have probably been double what it is had there been no monitors on the ground.
Much of the bloodshed of the past few days appeared to be a desperate attempt by authorities to keep protesters from gaining ground for multiple mass sit-ins where they can recreate the model of Cairo's Tahrir Square. The two-week sit-in at Tahrir brought down longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak in February and inspired other uprisings across the Arab world.
On Tuesday, as monitors visited the flashpoint city of Homs in central Syria, troops shot at thousands of protesters trying to reach the city’s central Clock Square. On Wednesday, the scene was repeated in nearby Hama, where protesters were shot trying to reach Assi Square and activists said at least six people were killed.
“This is the regime’s biggest fear, to have hundreds of thousands of people gathered in one place,” said one Homs resident.
Syria has allowed the monitors in, released about 800 prisoners and pulled some of its tanks from the city of Homs. But it has continued to shoot and kill unarmed protesters and has not lived up to any other terms of the agreement.
Syria’s top opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, told reporters in Cairo after meeting Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby that the aim of the mission is not only to observe, but to make sure that the Syrian government is “stopping the killing and shooting.” He added that the Syrian government is holding more than 100,000 detainees, “some of them held in military barracks and aboard ships off the Syrian coast.” He added: “There is real danger that the regime might kill them to say there are no prisoners.”
State-run TV said monitors also visited the Damascus suburb of Harasta, the central city of Hama and the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March.
The Observatory said a total of 26 people have been shot by security forces and killed on Thursday, most of them in several suburbs of Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 35 people were killed. The differing death tolls could not be immediately reconciled as Syria bans most foreign journalists and keeps tight restrictions on the local media.
The Syrian government organized a tour to the restive central city of Homs, where one team of monitors has been working for the last three days.
At the entrance to the city, which witnessed much of the violence in the past months, two checkpoints were stopping cars and asking for people’s identity cards. Inside, most shops were closed and streets had few people and cars as sporadic gunfire rang out. Most main streets were clean, but side streets were lined with piles of garbage bags.
At the military hospital, one of the largest in the city, a large number of civilians and members of the military were receiving treatment. One of them was a soldier who was shot in the stomach while in a Homs street Thursday morning. He was undergoing an operation, his mother said.
“My son did not harm anyone. He is a soldier to protect the country,” said his mother, Zeinab Jaroud, as she stood holding back here tears outside the operating room.
• Karam reported from Beirut.