Middle East, World News

Security forces fire on protesters in Homs, witnesses say


Thousands march, defy tanks in Syria

Thousands march, defy tanks in Syria

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • NEW: At least 11 deaths in Homs on Tuesday
  • Thousands gathered to protest the regime
  • An Arab League official says observers will have free access
  • League observers will try to see whether the Syrian regime is ending a brutal crackdown Security forces assaulted demonstrators in the volatile Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday as Arab League monitors arrived, witnesses said.

    Loubna, a Homs resident who asked that her full name not be used for security reasons, said she saw security forces shoot tear gas and bullets at protesters at Clock Square in downtown Homs, where thousands gathered. She saw seven injured people, said dozens were arrested, and she and others ran for safety in nearby houses.

    Danielle Moussa saw a similar sight in the city’s northeast neighborhood of Khalidiah, where thousands of people gathered. “I saw several get shot and I ran,” he said. Moussa is an opposition activist whose group was working to retrieve bodies.

    Loubna said thousands in Khalidiah left for Clock Square because they heard Arab League observers were at the downtown location, also the site of the city’s police headquarters and several government buildings.

    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group with contacts across the country, reported gunfire near the volatile Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr. It said security forces fired at people attending a funeral for those killed on Monday.

    The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist network, reported “heavy gunfire and the presence of snipers aiming at everything that moves in the orchards of Baba Amr and Jober.”

    Protesters turned up en masse on Tuesday. Around 35,000 protesters turned up in the neighborhood of Khalidiah, the LCC said. The observatory estimated around 20,000 protesters in Khalidiyah and 4,000 in Qusour took to the streets to denounce the regime. Protests also erupted in other neighborhoods. Video said to be from the city showed huge crowds.

    The Arab League fact-finding team is visiting Syria this week to assess whether the government is upholding a commitment to end a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters, now in its 10th month. The observers are monitoring an Arab League initiative that calls for President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees and end all forms of violence.

    The monitors arrived amid what opposition members said was a deadly military siege in recent days against protesters in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.

    The observatory said at least 11 tanks withdrew from their locations and repositioned themselves inside government centers in the city. But the observatory called the withdrawal a deceptive “show” for the Arab League monitors. It said the vehicles have repositioned themselves in spots that allow them to return to their previous positions.

    “It shows its (the al-Assad regime’s) attempt to circumvent the Arab League mission in order to give credibility to its false stories and deny the crystal-clear fact that there is a huge political crisis and a ‘popular revolution’, by all the standards, by the Syrian people who are trying to regain power, freedom and dignity,” the observatory said on its Facebook page.

    Shortly before the observers arrived, some military forces left the Baba Amr neighborhood, said resident and activist Omar al-Humsi. Baba Amr has been wracked with violence recently at the hands of the Syrian regime, opposition activists say.

    One video showed Arab League monitors in Baba Amr, with unseen voices saying “where is the justice?” and “this is blood. Come let me show you the blood of my other son. Come let me show you.”

    A voiceover on another video of Baba Amr says cars can’t move “anything is targeted” because of security force gunfire.

    The Arab League observers “will have access to any place they want, freely,” said a senior official in the league’s advance group to Syria.

    “The protocol entails that Syrian security only escorts the monitors to the entrances of the city only. According to the protocol, any party on the ground has the right to contact the monitors as they please,” said the official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

    The team consists of 12 monitors from different nationalities, the senior official said.

    The LCC said 29 people killed Tuesday. Among them were 11 in Homs, four in Daraa, four in the Damascus suburbs, three in Hama, two in Deir Ezzor, and one each in Idlib and Latakia. Plus, the LCC said, three people were killed at Damascus University.

    The observatory said a student recently arrested and tortured by the regime opened fire at pro-government students, killing one and wounding four. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said one student was killed and four were wounded in gunfire but didn’t elaborate on whether the incident involved political strife.

    SANA also reported on burials of “martyrs” from the army and security forces who were killed by “armed terrorist groups” — a phrase Syria has used frequently to describe those responsible for violence during the uprising.

    The news agency said “an armed terrorist group” was responsible for sabotaging a gas pipeline in Homs province on Tuesday, a bombing that halted gas pumping.

    Jamal Barakat, a member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, said he is part of the Arab League mission. He said Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby “emphasized the importance of neutrality, objectivity and transparency of our work” during the fact-finding mission.

    The mission will be broken up into different groups that will visit different cities, he said. El-Araby said observers will visit several areas including in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, Hama, Damascus, and Daraa.

    CNN cannot independently verify opposition accounts of violence or reports of deaths and injuries in Syria. Al-Assad’s government has restricted access to international journalists.

    The unrest in Syria began in March when protesters, emboldened by democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt, called for open elections and an increase in political freedoms and demanded an end to brutal regime actions. The movement quickly spiraled into a call for the ouster of al-Assad as the regime cracked down on peaceful demonstrators.

    The uprising launched the Free Syrian Army, a rebel force made up of military defectors, and efforts to create a breakaway government. Other opposition groups, most notably the Syrian National Council, have emerged.

    The Arab League has expelled Syria over its crackdown. But many question how effective the visit by league observers will be. Al-Assad has been under enormous international pressure to end the violence from the Arab League, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

    More than 5,000 people have died since al-Assad began the crackdown in mid-March on anti-government protesters calling for his ouster, the United Nations said earlier this month. But opposition groups and political activists say the toll is much higher. But activist groups, such as Avaaz and LCC, put the toll at more than 6,000.

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