Another miserable play written by the Syrian regime and directed by Al Dounia and other pro-Assad networks: The regime brought some shabiha from one of western towns in Hama to the Assi Square where they met with another group of thugs who were present there originally. They exchanged their traditional thugs’ clothes and started cheering for the butcher. As they say, the show must go on; Al Dounia videotaped them in front of the delegation! (as if a blind man can see!!). Proverb: For every disease there is a medicine, except stupidity, it will cause you disease in case you wanted to treat it. This stupid foolish regime is making fun of the people thinking that we can actually believe these kinds of sick plays. This Square is ours; this land is ours and we will continue our fight till the end with power and strength. NOTE: TO THIS MOMENT THE SQUARE (LOCATION) REMAINS CLOSED TO THE OPPOSITION
International monitors in Homs have been caught in the middle of Syria’s unrest, coming face to face with pleading protesters as fresh violence erupts around the country.
On their second day in Homs, the head of the Arab League delegation said the situation in the flashpoint city was “reassuring so far”.
But activists say more people have been killed there today and claim government troops in nearby Hama opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, killing at least six people.
The reports are fuelling concerns among the country’s opposition that the Arab League mission is a farce.
Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, who is leading the 150-strong delegation to Syria, said: “Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes.
“We did not see tanks but we did see some armoured vehicles. 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.”
But Ausama Monajed, from the main opposition group Syrian National Council, said: “This (Arab League) mission has absolutely no mandate, no authority, no teeth.
“The regime does not feel obliged to even bring down the number of casualties a day.”
Protesters were on their way to the city’s central Assi Square to stage a sit in amid a heavy security presence, but were dispersed by government forces.
Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us”. The slogans “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge from you Bashar” were also heard.
After the visit to Homs, the delegation is due to move on to Hama, Idlib and Daraa, where an ambush left four soldiers dead and another 12 injured.
It is unclear whether the violence in Hama and Daraa will affect the schedule.
Dr Samir Altaqi, a former official in the Syrian government who now heads the Oriental Research Centre in Dubai, said in addition to the violence the people of Homs are struggling with inflated prices of food and fuel.
“I think the Arab League delegation is not going to give any real capability to witness what is really going on,” he told Sky News.
“Wounded people are not able to go to the hospital because hospitals are becoming traps for wounded insurgents, peaceful insurgents.
“Meanwhile they will not be able to judge that the price of milk, the price of bread is 10 times the normal price.
“People are just dismantling their furniture, dismantling the wood of their doors and windows to burn them up (for fuel).”
The clashes come as activists and human rights groups voiced concern over whether the Sudanese general leading the Arab League mission is an appropriate choice.
They claim his own defiance of a war crimes tribunal relating to Darfur means he may not display balanced judgement.
But the Arab League has said it is confident Lt Gen Dabi’s experience will enable him to assess the situation in Syria properly.
Amnesty International said Sudan’s military intelligence at the time Dabi led it “was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan”.
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and a Sudan expert, said: “There is a broader question of why you would pick someone to lead this investigation… when he is part of an army that is guilty of precisely the sort of crimes that are being investigated in Syria.
“I think a Sudanese general would be one of the least likely people in the world to acknowledge these findings even if they are right there before him… It doesn’t make any sense.”
Residents pleaded with Arab monitors during their tour of the city, showing them into their burnt-out homes and displaying the empty shells of government tanks as evidence of the regime’s crackdown.
The visit coincided with allegations from Human Rights Watch which accused the Syrian authorities of hiding detainees from Arab observers.
Echoing the calls of activists in the country, the international watchdog said that hundreds of prisoners had been moved to high-security military sites which were off limits to the monitors.
Deadly clashes in Syria have left over 300 dead in the past week alone, with graphic YouTube videos showing images of the dead and injured, and others of government tanks firing randomly into what appear to be residential homes.
The violence is part of continued protests against the rule of President Bashar al Assad, which according to the UN have left over 5,000 dead.
More than 14.5 million are eligible to vote in first such election since local administrations were given more power.
Syrians will cast their ballots in local elections for the first time since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began nine months ago.
Turnout for Monday’s elections, which start at 7:00am local time, is expected to be low, amid calls by activists to boycott the polls and reports of continued violence across the country.
Khalaf Azzawi, the chairman of the electoral commission, was quoted by SANA state news agency on Sunday as saying: “The polling stations have been equipped with all the means and mechanisms that would guarantee the voters the freedom to chose the candidates who will represent them.”
In Damascus, the capital city, and Aleppo, the second largest city, pictures of candidates have been posted in the streets, but residents noted that less campaigning activities were held this year than ahead of the last local elections in 2007.
In restive cities rocked by anti-government protests, including Homs, Hama and Deraa, campaigning activities were almost nonexistent.
“There are only two signs calling people to vote in Hama: one in the Assi Square and another at the City Council,” a resident of the central city told Al Jazeera.
“Activists distributed leaflets in the city calling on residents to boycott the elections,” he said.
A resident from Homs’ Inshaat area said: ”I didn’t even know an election was taking place. The people of Homs have removed every picture of Bashar al-Assad from the streets, so don’t expect to see pictures of candidates who are no more than stooges of the regime.”
Homs has endured the largest number of casualties in the government forces’ crackdown on protests. The UN estimates that more than 4,000 people have been killed across the country since March.
Preparations for the voting took place as the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network reported that at least 18 people were killed by security forces on Sunday.
Writer and activist Louay Hussein, speaking to Al Jazeera from Damascus, said: “The government is trying to show that the situation in Syria is normal, that it is on track with reforms. This is simply another maneuver from the regime that we do not buy into.”
More than 14.5m Syrians are eligible to cast their ballots, according to state media, including thousands of Kurds who would be allowed to vote for the first time since a presidential decree was issued in April granting them Syrian nationality.
Radif Mustafa, the head of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in the northeastern province of Qamishli, told Al Jazeera that all Kurdish political parties and popular committees would boycott the polls.
Local elections take place every four years, but Monday’s are the first since Assad issued the local administration law in August which gives the local administrations more powers and financial independence.
An official in Damascus told Al Jazeera that “the new law is based on international standards. The electoral process is - for the first time - being supervised by judicial committees as opposed to the interior ministry, the way it used to be”.
Previously, elections were conducted according to the “closed lists” system, which guaranteed 50 per cent of all municipal seats to the National Progressive Front coalition with the biggest share allocated to members of the ruling al-Baath party.
This year, “there are no lists and people can vote for whoever they want”, said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.
But Nabil Samman, head of the Centre for Research and Documentation in Damascus, told Al Jazeera that not only is the timing of the elections wrong, but they are useless given the fact that the constitution has not been amended.
“The ruling coalition has packaged itself as a ‘National Unity Coalition’ but nothing has changed,” he said.
Article eight of the constitution, which states that al-Baath party is the leading party in the society and the state, has not been scrapped yet.
Assad had formed a constitutional committee in October mandated with authoring a new constitution.
Assad said parliamentary elections would be held in February 2012.