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Observers keep close watch on rising violence in Syria

12-29-2011 16:55 BJT

DAMASCUS, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Foreign observers are keeping a close watch on the situation in Syria as violence re-surges in several places in the country, claiming the lives of many people.

The United States on Wednesday urged the Syrian government to give full access to the Arab League (AL) monitors to carry out a "full investigation" into the escalating violence in the Arab state.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at a briefing in Washington that the monitors should seek to "observe as many of the protests as possible, engage with as many members of the opposition as possible, and really pursue their mission."

The U.S. government on Tuesday condemned the escalation of violence in Syria, accusing the Syrian government of disobeying the peace accord reached with the AL.

It accused the Syrian government of escalating their attacks on several neighborhoods in Homs in western Syrian and other cities before the deployment of AL observers, saying "these actions are not consistent with the terms of the Arab League initiative."

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Tuesday that "the international community will be particularly watchful for any attempt at concealment or manipulation that the Damascus regime might try to," urging Syria to allow the AL observers to carry out their mission without hindrance.

Syria signed the AL observer protocol on Dec. 19 in Cairo after the regional bloc threatened to submit the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

The first group of AL observers, some 50 people led by Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mostafa al-Dabi, arrived in the restive Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, officially kicking off the AL's ground assessment of Damascus's compliance with an Arab peace plan to end its months-long domestic rift.

Al-Dabi said on Tuesday that he was satisfied with the first day of the mission's ground monitoring, adding that the United States is consulting and engaged with the Arab countries on this matter through its embassies in Damascus and Cairo.

However, he stressed that "this is an independent monitoring mission."

Another group of Arab observers from Cairo reportedly arrived in Damascus on Wednesday as their colleagues escaped gunfire in a restive neighborhood in the central Homs province.

Syria's private Sham FM radio said that armed men on Wednesday surrounded a car carrying four Arab observers in the al-Mraij neighborhood in Homs, adding that the car managed to escape to another neighborhood after Syrian law-enforcement forces fired at the gunmen.

The report could not be verified with the absence of official comments.

Reports said that the AL observers had visited several neighborhoods in Homs and continued their mission for the second day in five cities with the full facilitation of the Syrian government.

The AL said in a statement that the observers are working freely with the authorities as stipulated in the protocol signed by the Syrian government, and the mission's chief al-Dabi is satisfied with the team's work.

The observers are tasked with ensuring that the Syrian government abides by its commitments inked in the AL peace plan, including removing its security forces and heavy weapons from urban streets, starting talks with opposition leaders and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country.

Qadri Jamil, leader of newly-formed "the Popular Will Party", told Xinhua in a recent interview that the presence of the Arab observers would help rein in violent acts in Syria, adding that his party strongly supports the AL peace plan.

Syria's official news agency SANA said the observers had met with Ghassan Abdul-Al, the governor of Homs, along with some residents of the restive province.

It said the group went to Bab Amro, a hotbed of armed clashes with the government forces, and other areas.

According to SANA, some of the group's members headed back to Damascus while the others remained in Homs.

During the field monitoring, live broadcasts by Al Jazeera television showed tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Khalidiya district in central Homs to rally against the government and plead for Arab peace monitors to bear witness to their plight.

Residents said they saw the army pull back some military vehicles from the city of Homs and deploy others inside governmental administration districts for further arrangement.

The Syrian government Wednesday released a total of 755 prisoners arrested during the months-old unrest who "didn't have blood on their hands."

SANA said that the Syrian authorities have since November set free as many as 2,847 detainees, as part of the government's pledges to release those arrested during the ten-month-old unrest.

The release topped protesters' demands and was stipulated in a deal concluded of late between the Syrian government and the AL ministerial committee to end the crisis in Syria.

Violence ramped up in several parts of Syria, leaving many people dead and injured, as the AL observers started their field mission on Tuesday.

About six Syrian workers were killed when their bus was blown up by two explosive devices planted by "terrorists" on the highway that connects coastal Latakia province with northern Aleppo city, according to SANA.

In a separate incident Tuesday morning, the Syrian authorities clashed with an "armed group" along the Turkish border and killed a number of its members. The group was trying to facilitate the infiltration of some gunmen from the Turkish territory into Syria, SANA said.

In restive Homs province in central Syria, a gas pipeline was targeted in the early hours Tuesday by an explosive device planted by "terrorist groups", SANA reported.

At least four pipelines have been targeted since the eruption of unrest in Syria in mid March. Syria called the attacks "sabotages". In July, fire damaged a natural gas pipeline in Deir el-Zour. Another oil pipeline was blasted in Talkhalakh area in Homs on July 29.

Meanwhile, Iran voiced its concern over some Iranian engineers reportedly abducted in Syria. Iranian lawmakers called on the Syrian government to act swiftly to determine the fate of seven Iranian engineers recently abducted in Homs, according to Iran's satellite Press TV on Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, reports said that five Iranian electrical engineers, who were involved in building the Homs city's power plant over the past two years, had been kidnapped by unknown armed men. Later, two other Iranian specialists trying to inquire about the fate of the five abducted were also kidnapped.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi also condemned the abduction of the Iranian engineers, adding that the remaining employees of Iranian firms working in Syria have been relocated to safer places.

Iranian firms are currently carrying out several other projects in Syria, such as constructing power plants and silos.

The Syrian government said last week that a total of 2,000 army and security personnel were killed during the months-long unrest. The United Nations has put the total death toll in the country at more than 5,000.

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: Xinhua

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