Assad Pulls Troops Out of Homs to Impress Monitors
Syrian tanks and infantry withdrew from the city of Homs on Tuesday as Arab League observers prepared to visit the city.
Homs, Syria's third largest city, has a population of 800,000 and is at the epicenter of the revolt against Assad. It is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the capital, Damascus. Many refer to Homs as the "Capital of the Revolution."
YouTube videos showed huge crowds pouring onto the streets shortly after the pullback, shouting the punishing crackdown of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad would not cow them.
The pullback ahead of the delegation's visit is widely seen as perception management on the part of Assad, who only agreed to admit Arab League observers under extreme pressure.
However, after agreeing to the plan early last week, Assad's regime intensified the violence, rather than easing up - leading to international condemnation that he was flouting the agreement.
The Arab League plan demands the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.
Before Tuesday's redeployment of at least some tanks, there had been no sign that Assad was implementing any of the terms, much less letting up on his brutal crackdown. Government troops killed hundreds last week.
On Monday, even as the Arab League delegation began its work, security forces killed at least 42 people, most of them in Homs. It was also reported one of the observers had been fired on by Syrian troops.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some army vehicles pulled out of Homs while others relocated in government compounds "where (they) can deploy again within five minutes."
Many observers say the Arab League plan is unlikely to result in meaningful change in Syria where opposition leaders have gone on record saying it is a 'farce' and accusing Assad of playing a 'shell game.'
The delegation comes as almost a year of peaceful protests increasingly gives way to an armed insurgency of army defectors known as the Syrian Free Army.
Led by dissident senior Syrian officers in Turkey, the Ankara-backed SFA has launched a series of deadly attacks on Assad's forces as its ranks have swelled to over 20,000.
UN officials say more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since protests erupted March.
Syrian authorities claim some 2,000 security personnel have also been killed in the unrest.