Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Activists: Syrian Forces Fire at Protesters While Monitors Tour Country

VOA NewsDecember 28, 2011

Activists say Syrian security forces fired shots at protesters in Hama on Wednesday as Arab League monitors toured other regions to track the extent of the government's crackdown on dissent.

Rights groups say the government action in Hama was among scattered violence across the country on Wednesday that left at least eight people dead.

Arab League observers are due to visit the flashpoint city late Wednesday or Thursday, along with stops in the Idlib and Daraa regions.

The mission leader, Sudanese General Mohammed Dabi, said observers did not see "anything frightening" during a Tuesday visit to Homs. He said the city was "quiet" and there were no clashes.

The comments came despite activists' reports Tuesday that Syrian forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at thousands of demonstrators in Homs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says six people were killed there, while at least nine protest-related deaths were reported nationwide.

On Wednesday, activists said that some Homs residents refused to meet with observers because they were accompanied by a Syrian army officer.

Meanwhile, a human rights group has accused Syria of transferring prisoners to military facilities in order to hide them from the observers. Syrian state media said Wednesday the government released 755 prisoners.

Human Rights Watch says hundreds of inmates, though, were transferred shortly before the arrival of the observers, who are monitoring government pledges to halt a violent crackdown and release political dissidents.

Rights groups have questioned whether monitors can work independently.

Middle East analyst Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver said the Arab League is hoping to push Assad away from fighting and into negotiations, but that the size of the observer mission is too small.

"It's also simply not backed up by what really would get Bashar Assad to do something, which is the threat of foreign military intervention which we saw in Libya for example. But without that I think he's going to play with them as long as he can," said Adelman.

Syrian authorities agreed to the Arab League observers under international pressure and threats of Arab sanctions. The plan requires Syrian authorities to give the monitors freedom of movement except for sensitive military sites.

The United Nations estimates 5,000 people have been killed since March in violence linked to Syria's unrest. Syria says armed terrorists are driving the revolt. It accuses them of killing 2,000 security personnel since March.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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