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Thu 29 Dec 2011 09:30 AM

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Arab League monitors see 'nothing frightening' in Syria

Opposition activists say government will play for time and bend the mission to its own ends

Arab League monitors see 'nothing frightening' in Syria
Opposition activists say the government will play for time

Arab monitors head to three more Syrian cities on Thursday to check if
government forces are complying with a peace plan after a delegation to Homs,
centre of the protests against president Bashar Al Assad, was mobbed by a
protesters demanding protection.

The Arab League mission, the first international involvement on the ground
in Syria since the protests began last March, got off to a controversial start
when its Sudanese leader said he had seen "nothing frightening" on
his first trip to Homs.

He later said he needed more time to make an assessment of the city.

The observers briefly visit Homs on Tuesday then returned to Wednesday with
an army escort, to the dismay of demonstrators who mobbed their car.

They finally went back to Baba Amr district, one of the worst-hit, to see
shattered houses and hear from people who have lost friends and relatives.

They are likely to witness similar scenes on Thursday when they visit Deraa,
Hama and Idlib, all cities where anti-regime demonstrations have been curbed.

The observers' leader, Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi, said the mission
was still in its early days.

"We have 20 people who will be there [in Homs] for a long time,"
he said.

Opposition activists say the government will play for time and bend the
mission to its own ends. But Washington urged then to give Dabi a chance.

"We need let this mission get up and running, let them do their job and
then let them give their judgment," State Department spokesman Mark Toner
said in Washington.

Unless it can establish its credibility by proving it has unobstructed
access to all areas and is able to hear uncensored accounts, the Arab League mission
may not be able to satisfy all sides that it can make an objective assessment
of the crisis.

Most of the 5,000 or more people estimated by the United Nations to have
been killed in Syria since March have lost their lives in Homs, to machinegun
fire, sniper bullets, mortar blasts and tank shelling.

What began with peaceful mass protests against the regime has turned into an
armed insurrection as thousands of army defectors formed the Syrian Free Army
and attacked military and police convoys, bases and checkpoints.

A video shot by rebels showed the ambush of a security forces convoy on
Wednesday by eight gunmen who opened fire from a rooftop.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four soldiers
were killed in the attack by rebel troops on a road near the southern village
of Dael in Deraa province, cradle of the revolt.

Assad says he is combating terrorism steered from abroad. He says more than
2,000 security personnel have been killed.