At least one person was killed there, but away from the gaze of the observers, the death toll may have been higher: at least two — and as many as six — demonstrators were killed in the city of Hama after members of the security forces fired on a protest, according to antigovernment activists. In images posted on the Internet purporting to show the protest, gunfire could be heard as several people carried a wounded young man.Once again, Assad claims to have released hundreds of prisoners, but no one can verify that such a release occurred. Moreover, Assad is playing a shell game in hiding violence from the monitors and only showing them what the regime wants them to see. So, for instance, the monitors are taken to Homs, where the regime just completed a recent military operation that resulted in hundreds of casualties. There's still violence there, but just out of sight of the monitors. Meanwhile, the violence flares in Hama, where the crackdown continues. Expect the violence to resume in Homs when the monitors move on to look elsewhere in the country.
The Syrian official news agency, SANA, reported Wednesday that armed men also killed eight members of one family in Hama.
The Arab League observers are scheduled to visit Hama on Thursday, along with several other Syrian cities, including Idlib and Dara’a. But the continuing violence seemed to underscore nagging doubts about the prospects for their mission.
Human rights advocates have questioned whether the team has the qualifications or enough independence from the government to help end a conflict that many fear is veering toward civil war as growing numbers of armed men join the opposition. Already, more than 5,000 people have been killed since the popular uprising began gathering momentum — and harsh government retaliation — in March, according to United Nations estimates.
The doubts about the observer mission seemed to grow Wednesday after comments by its leader, Lt. Gen. Muhammed al-Dabi, a former head of military intelligence in Sudan. Speaking about a visit on Tuesday to Homs that was interrupted by gunfire — and a city that has seen some of the worst violence in the nine-month conflict — General Dabi told Reuters, “Some places looked a bit of a mess, but there was nothing frightening.”
At the same time, maybe because of the observers’ presence, the Syrian government on Wednesday seemed to offer a concession to its opponents, announcing that it had released more than 700 prisoners who did not have “Syrian blood” on their hands. The release, which could not be confirmed independently, followed a report on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch that said the government had recently transferred hundreds of political prisoners to sites including military installations to hide them from the monitors.
At the same time, one has to question the qualifications of the monitors themselves. After all, the lead monitor is none other than the guy responsible for a wide range of war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass murder, mayhem, and a death toll in Darfur in the millions.
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.The Washington Post actually soft-pedals the charges against al-Dabi. Foreign Policy notes that he was responsible for establishing the janjaweed in Sudan and remains a loyalist to Omar al Bashir, who is accused of war crimes and genocide himself. It's literally the fox guarding the henhouse with al-Dabi in charge of the mission, and that's without Assad's actions to use the mission for his own propaganda purposes. Expect Assad to claim that the violence has been quelled and that the mission's findings support his regime's claims that they're dealing with the violence in a judicious manner, even as the body count rises exponentially.
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.”
Haytham Manna, a prominent Paris-based dissident, urged the Arab League to replace al-Dabi or reduce his authority because “we know his history and his shallow experience in the area.”
Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees described al-Dabi as a “senior officer with an oppressive regime that is known to repress opposition” and said there are fears he might not be neutral.
“What do you expect from the head of a monitoring mission who is accused of genocide in his own country,” asked Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group.
The opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, and human rights groups like Amnesty International and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights continue to record the body count and violence against the Syrian people carried out by the Assad regime. The numbers give lie to Assad's repeated claims.