(Updates death toll in seventh paragraph.)
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian forces fired on protesters in Homs as Arab League observers visited the central city that has suffered the most casualties since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March, activists said.
The crackdown, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Homs, continued as the Arab League reiterated calls for the government to protect civilians, withdraw troops from urban areas and release political prisoners, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights said by phone from Syria today. A car carrying Arab League monitors was shot at in Homs, Al-Jazeera reported.
“Oppression seems to be the only policy of the government and they are playing for time after and looking forward to their ally Iraq taking over the presidency of the Arab League in March,” Patrick Seale, a biographer of Assad’s father, said by phone. “The balance of power remains very much in the regime’s favor. I don’t see any immediate change in the situation and I don’t think the Syrian opposition has what it takes.”
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi yesterday said he expected a report from monitors on Jan. 19. The Cairo-based bloc said it will continue its mission in Syria as long as the government abides by the terms of an agreement allowing the monitors.
The unrest, which is the strongest challenge to Assad’s rule since he came to power in 2000, has left more than 5,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates.
A 16-year-old boy died today in Douma, a suburb of the capital Damascus, from wounds sustained a few days earlier, while two people were killed in Idlib, said the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists in Syria. Twelve tanks were stationed in the suburbs of Hama, it said in an e-mailed statement.
At least 20 people were killed yesterday in Homs, Hama, suburbs of Damascus and the northern province of Idlib, Merei said. Seven people died today in Homs, Hama, and the Damascus suburb of Douma, according to Merei. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist group with members in Syria, put the death toll at 19, which included two women and a child.
“The Syrian government has been very consistent from the beginning with a policy to confront the demonstrations with a combination of mass arrests, violence, and they haven’t changed,” said Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “It’s a policy to beat the uprising down and hit people so badly that they surrender and give it up, and that obviously hasn’t worked.”
Assad’s government has blamed “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs for fomenting the protests.
The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27. Efforts by the U.S. and the European Union, which also have imposed sanctions, for the UN Russia and China.
--With assistance from Abdel Latif Wahba in Cairo. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Karl Maier
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