With much fanfare, a group of observers from the Arab League rolled into Syria on Tuesday, promising to investigate those pesky allegations of brutal aggression and human-rights outrages by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. This turned out to be one of the easiest jobs in the world, as the Associated Press reports:
Syrian security forces opened fire Thursday on tens of thousands protesting outside a mosque in a Damascus suburb, close to a municipal building that members of the Arab League monitoring mission were believed to be visiting. Activists said at least four people were killed.
Troops also fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse large protests in several other areas of the country, including central Damascus, killing at least 21 people nationwide, activists said.
[…] Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said about 20,000 people were protesting outside the Grand Mosque in the Damascus suburb of Douma when troops opened fire. Cars belonging to the Arab League monitors were seen in front of a municipal building close to the mosque, he said.
Abdul-Rahman and other activists said the monitors were barred by security officials from entering Douma following the killings, after the situation deteriorated. A witness said angry citizens closed off streets with rocks and garbage containers and thousands of people returned to the area around the Grand Mosque to stage a sit-in.
Troops also surrounded a mosque in Damascus’ central neighborhood of Midan and tossed tear gas canisters at hundreds of people who were calling for the downfall of the regime.
AFP relays unconfirmed reports that nail bombs were fired into the crowd:
In the restive Damascus suburb of Douma, security forces fired nail bombs at tens of thousands of protesters, and demonstrators retaliated by throwing stones, said the Observatory.
The use of nail bombs could not be independently verified.
“An activist in the city told the Observatory that he was hurt by shrapnel from those bombs,” the watchdog said a statement.
What a shame. Assad was trying so hard to behave himself while the monitors were making their little visit. He even refrained from crushing the city of Homs with tanks.
The Syrian strongman’s efforts to hide his brutality, by restricting access to the scenes of his crimes, are laughable. These Arab League monitors are not just a random gaggle of bureaucrats selected by lottery. They’re highly qualified to detect oppression:
Leading opposition members are calling on the Cairo-based Arab League to remove the Sudanese head of the monitoring mission because he was a senior official in the “oppressive regime” of President Omar al-Bashir, who is under an international arrest warrant on charges of committing genocide in Darfur.
The head of the mission, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, is a longtime loyalist of al-Bashir and once served as his head of Sudanese military intelligence.
Amnesty International said under al-Dabi’s command, military intelligence in the early 1990s “was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan.”
The “Cairo-based Arab League” might be a bit slow getting back to the Syrian opposition, as the Egyptian military is currently busy raiding the offices of human-rights organizations in Cairo. Once the “clampdown” against dissent is completed in Egypt, normal communications should resume.
There is an active armed resistance to the Assad regime, a group of about 15,000 army defectors styling itself the “Free Syrian Army.” They said they would suspend offensive operations while the Arab League monitors were in country:
The leader of the FSA, breakaway air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, said his troops have halted the attacks since the observers arrived on Tuesday. The government insists terrorists and gangs are driving nine months of crisis in Syria.
“We stopped to show respect to Arab brothers, to prove that there are no armed gangs in Syria, and for the monitors to be able to go wherever they want,” al-Asaad told The Associated Press by telephone from his base in Turkey.
“We only defend ourselves now. This is our right and the right of every human being,” he said, adding that his group will resume attacks after the observers finish their mission.
The foreign ministry of Russia, one of Syria’s few remaining friends, looked upon yesterday’s carnage and pronounced itself… “reassured.”
“Moscow appraises with satisfaction the real beginning of the Arab League activities in Syria,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry noted that the Sudanese general who heads the mission visited the restive city of Homs.
“The situation there is reassuring, clashes have not been recorded,” the statement said.
Thus does tragedy become farce, as a large slice of humanity pronounces itself willing to swallow murderous evil without undue complaint.