BEIRUT (Reuters) - The head of an Arab League mission investigating if Syria is following a peace plan said he saw “nothing frightening” in the flashpoint city of Homs but many residents said they were already losing trust in the monitors.
Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi said his team needed more time to inspect Homs before giving a final verdict, but residents in the hard-hit Baba Amr district where the team took an initial tour said they felt monitors were not responding to their grievances.
“There were some places where the situation was not good,” Dabi told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday. “But there wasn’t anything frightening, at least while we were there. Things were calm and there were no clashes.”
Homs is the heart of the nine-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and has become one of its bloodiest hotspots as armed rebels emerge to fight government tanks and machine guns.
The monitors are checking to see if Syria is withdrawing its troops from cities and halting the violence that has threatened to spiral into civil war.
“I felt they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d seen—maybe they had orders not to show sympathy. But they didn’t seem enthusiastic about hearing people tell their stories,” said Baba Amr resident and activist Omar.
“We felt like we were shouting into a void,” he said,
“We placed our hopes in the entire Arab League,” said Omar. “But these monitors don’t seem to understand how the regime works, they don’t seem interested in the suffering and death people have faced.”
Activists said they showed the team buildings riddled with bullets and mortar rounds and pointed out what they said were tanks but only had two hours to give them a tour.
Dabi said his team did not see tanks but they did see some armored vehicles. He said his team planned to visit Baba Amr again.
“The situation seemed reassuring so far,” he said. “But remember this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time.”
The monitors visited the families of people killed in recent violence as well as some of the wounded.
Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said most Baba Amr residents were disappointed with the mission the team should be given more time.
“They need to give them an opportunity, not too long, but long enough for them to make an inspection before we make judgments. We cannot judge them based on the first day,” he said.
Mohammed Saleh, an activist in Homs told Reuters on Tuesday that the army had pulled tanks away from the perimeter of Baba Amr in what critics said was a move to hoodwink monitors.
Residents in Baba Amr were angry that they could not convince the monitors to go into the worst-hit neighborhoods of the district, he said.
A video clip posted on the Internet on Tuesday appeared to show the monitors touring Baba Amr as angry residents shouted at them and tugged on one monitor’s jacket, pleading them to enter their neighborhoods as gunfire erupted in the background.
“Come and see, they are slaughtering us I swear,” a man yelled.
A Homs resident who asked not to be named said the visit did allow activists to bring more supplies into areas surrounded by security forces.
“The only good thing that came out of its visit is that we managed to bring food supplies to the neighborhood and to other areas,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny