Monitors probe Syria protester death claims

ARAB League monitors investigated activist claims that government troops in Hama fired at thousands of unarmed protesters and killed at least six.

Though President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has made concessions to the observers, including the release of 800 prisoners yesterday, the military is pressing ahead with a violent campaign to put down mostly peaceful protests.

Activists said at least 39 people have been killed in the two days since the monitors began work.

The continuing violence — and comments by an Arab League official praising Syrian cooperation — have fuelled concerns by the Syrian opposition that the Arab League mission is a farce and a distraction from the ongoing killings.

“This mission has absolutely no mandate, no authority, no teeth,” said Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, the country’s main opposition group. “The regime does not feel obliged to even bring down |the number of casualties a day,” he told AP.

The 60 Arab League monitors are supposed to be ensuring the regime is complying with terms of a plan to end the crackdown. The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since March.

The plan demands the government remove security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. It also calls for the release of political prisoners.

The government released 755 prisoners following a Human Rights Watch report accusing authorities of hiding hundreds of detainees from the monitors.

The Arab observers kicked off their one month mission with a visit on Tuesday to Homs, a city at the heart of the uprising.

According to officials and activists, the monitors went to several districts including trouble spots in Baba Amr, Bab Sbaa and Inshaat. Amateur video posted on the Internet showed the head of the team, Sudanese Lt Gen Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, walking in Baba Amr and stopping to talk to people.

In one video, he is seen talking to a man who accuses the regime of killing his 64-year-old brother, a former official of Assad’s ruling Baath party, and his wife, and then blaming it on armed gangs.

Another video showed the observers in a car, with people shouting for Assad’s downfall and apparently objecting to the observers’ Syrian military escort.

There were no reports of firing on Homs protesters during the observers’ visit yesterday.

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