BEIRUT (AP) — After days of punishing assaults, Syria's army began withdrawing tanks from the restive city of Homs on Tuesday just as a team of Arab League observers was on its way to the central city, according to activists and an Arab official.
Opposition activist Mohammed Saleh said the heavy bombardment of Homs stopped Tuesday morning and tanks were seen pulling out of the streets. Another Homs-based activist said he saw armored vehicles leaving early Tuesday on a highway leading to the city of Palmyra to the east. He asked that his name not be made public for fear of retribution.
For days, military forces had pounded Homs with artillery despite agreeing to an Arab League plan to stop the bloodshed. The Arab monitoring mission is meant to ensure the government complies with the deal to halt the nine-month crackdown on dissent.
Opponents of President Bashar Assad, however, doubt that the Arab League can budge the autocratic leader at the head of one of the Middle East's most repressive regimes.
Syria's top opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun called Sunday for the League to bring the U.N. Security Council into the effort. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the political violence.
In Cairo, an official at the Arab League's operations room said the Sudanese head of the mission to Syria, Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, was leading a team of at least 12 observers on their way to Homs Tuesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, gave no further details.
Homs, Syria's third largest city, has a population of 800,000 and is at the epicenter of the revolt against Assad, located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the capital, Damascus. Many Syrians refer to Homs as the "Capital of the Revolution."
On Monday, security forces killed at least 42 people, most of them in Homs.
"Today is calm, unlike pervious days," Saleh said on Tuesday. "The shelling went on for days, but yesterday was terrible."
The Arab League plan agreed to by Assad last week requires the government to 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.