By Edward Yeranian
Reports from the Syrian city of Homs say government forces have withdrawn some, but not all, of their tanks and armored personnel carriers from a flashpoint district as Arab League monitors visit parts of the city. Activists say 70,000 people took to the streets to welcome the observers.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the central square in Homs, shouting slogans against the government.
The protesters came out in droves as Arab League observers visited parts of the city, including the embattled district of Bab Amr.
Witnesses reported that sporadic shooting and shelling continued in the district. A video posted on opposition websites showed vehicles accelerating to avoid gunfire. It is impossible to confirm the authenticity of such videos. Most foreign journalists are not being allowed into Syria.
A cluster of people surround one Arab observer as a man who appears to be a government official tries to distract him. Witnesses say the man was trying to prevent the monitor from heading to Bab Amr. Citizens can be heard urging him to go there, as others tell him about recent shelling.
Other videos show a team of observers visiting a badly damaged area, which is identified as Bab Amr. Voices can be heard telling them about shooting and casualties.
A witness in Bab Amr told Al Hurra TV earlier Tuesday that government forces had not completely withdrawn from the area.
He insists some government tanks have been hidden, and that some soldiers remain, disguised as policemen or civil defense workers.
Other witnesses reported seeing columns of tanks withdrawing from Homs in the direction of the oasis town of Palmyra.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says the Syrian government is trying to manipulate the Arab observer mission.
He says authorities are trying to prevent the observers from entering the areas worst hit by the crackdown. He also says that repeated delays in the mission have given the government more time to commit violence. Abou Diab argues that the Arab League team is “completely at the mercy of the Syrian government” since it has no vehicles of its own, and is understaffed.
Syrian government television, for its part, claimed that “armed terrorists” attacked government forces near the Turkish border. The government station also said that terrorists blew up a gas pipeline north of Homs.