Syrian tanks shell Homs despite Arab League accord, activists say
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — There were reports of violence in Syria's flashpoint Homs region less than 24 hours after the government of President Bashar Assad signed an Arab League plan intended to end months of bloodshed and unrest in the country.
Syrian activists said a dozen people were killed Thursday in Bab Amro and surrounding areas when tanks mounted with machine guns opened fire and security forces sprayed live ammunition inside the Tal Al Showr village. The Bab Amro district of Homs has been an epicenter of anti-government protests.
Telecommunications and electricity were cut in the Bab Amro district and troops began besieging the neighborhood in the early morning, according to activist accounts.
An amateur video clip posted on YouTube and said to have been recorded in Bab Amro early Thursday shows what appear to be shells exploding in a residential building, and flames and black smoke rising from windows. At one point, the camera zooms in on what look like two tanks positioned near the building being shelled. The video’s authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
Syrian activists say the activity shows the government is already breaching an accord announced Wednesday between Damascus and the Arab League. The agreement calls for a complete halt to violence, withdrawal of military troops from Syrian cities, release of political prisoners, and the granting of media access to report on the situation.
Many regime opponents are skeptical about the deal. Some view it as an effort by the government to buy time.
Razan Zeitouna, a Damascus-based Syrian human rights lawyer, said in an email that word of new deaths in the country was arriving even as Arab League ministers were meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss Syria.
"I wrote down names of three killed people, only during the reading of the [Arab League] resolution," she wrote.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian activist, likened Assad’s strategy to that of Abdullah Saleh, the embattled Yemeni president who keeps vowing to hand over power but never steps down despite huge popular protests and international pressures.
"I doubt that Assad has any real intention of following through on this commitment," Abdulhamid said. “He might be taking a page out of ... Saleh's book, that is, he will say one thing and do another."
And even if troops were taken off the streets, it would be hard to end the cycle of violence because thugs loyal to the regime might still roam freely, Abdulhamid said. The army could eventually be reintroduced "as protectors of the order," he added. "And we're back where we started."
Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian opposition network, has called on Syrians to take to the streets Friday to test whether the Arab League deal is being implemented.
The group urged Syrians "to validate whether the armed forces (which might include security forces, thugs, and army) have been withdrawn from the cities and towns, and whether violence [has] been stopped, detainees have been released, [and] Arab and international media … have been allowed into the country.”
— Alexandra Sandels
Photo. Syrian President Bashar Assad flanked by army generals. Credit: Reuters