Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
Activists: 32 killed as 500,000 take to Syria's streets
Arab League monitor tells protesters at mosque: 'Our goal ... not to remove' Assad but vows to report 'blood being shed'
BEIRUT — Deadly clashes erupted in Syria on Friday as activists estimated that 500,000 protesters filled the streets to demonstrate against the government of President Bashar Assad. Activists said 32 people were shot dead as Arab League officials continued monitoring the situation on the ground.
One Arab League monitor told an angry crowd that his team's job was only to observe, not to help them remove Assad, live video on Al Jazeera showed on Friday.
"Our goal is to observe ... it is not to remove the president, our aim is to return Syria to peace and security," he said, speaking over a loudspeaker from a podium at a mosque filled with protesters in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where Friday also saw troops fire tear gas at protesters who threw rocks at them.
But the observer, who did not give his name, said he promised to convey the protesters' sufferings.
"From what I have heard there is blood being shed," he said. "That is for sure."
A team of around 60 monitors has already arrived from a delegation that should ultimately number 150 and is expected to inspect Syria for about one month. They will check whether Assad's forces are implementing a peace plan that calls for an end to a crackdown on anti-government revolt.
Activists say they believe many monitors are pro-government or that they feel it is too difficult to communicate with the team away from government escorts. Inside the Douma mosque, the restless crowd seemed suspicious of the monitors.A speaker from the mosque tried to calm the audience, pleading with them to let the monitor speak. But a man immediately broke the silence, shouting "My son is a martyr, they killed him," rousing chants of "With blood and soul we will redeem the martyrs."
The monitor, who asked the audience not to film him but who was broadcast on Al Jazeera Live, said: "We as monitors are not supposed to speak but the situation has forced me to say something: We are monitoring the elements of the protocol signed between the Arab League and the government."
The protocol requires that Syrian forces withdraw from cities and release detainees believed to still number in the thousands.
More than 5,000 people have been killed as the government tries to crush the protests. It says it is fighting Islamist militants steered from abroad who have killed 2,000 members of the security forces.
BAIL OUTS COMING?
Pakistani death squads go after informants to U.S. drone program
The militant group known as Khorasan Mujahedin terrorizes villages near the Afghan border. Tribal elders say most of those killed are innocent.
By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
December 28, 2011, 12:10 p.m.
Pulling up in caravans of Toyota Corolla hatchbacks, dozens of them seal off mud-hut villages near the Afghan border, and then scour markets and homes in search of tribesmen they suspect of helping to identify targets for the armed U.S. drones that routinely buzz overhead.
Once they've snatched their suspect, they don't speed off, villagers say. Instead, the caravan leaves slowly, a trademark gesture meant to convey that they expect no retaliation.
Militant groups lack the ability to bring down the drones, which have killed senior Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders as well as many foot soldiers. Instead, a collection of them have banded together to form Khorasan Mujahedin in the North Waziristan tribal region to hunt for those who sell information about the location of militants and their safe houses.
Pakistani officials and tribal elders maintain that most of those who are abducted this way are innocent, but after being beaten, burned with irons or scalded with boiling water, almost all eventually "confess." And few ever come back.
One who did was a shop owner in the town of Mir Ali, a well-known hub of militant activity.
A band of Khorasan gunmen strode up to the shop owner one afternoon last fall, threw him into one of their cars and drove away, said a relative who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. They took him to a safe house being used as a lockup for others the group suspected of spying for the drone program.
For the next eight weeks, they bludgeoned him with sticks, trying to get him to confess that he was a drone spy. He wasn't, said the relative. Unable to determine whether he was guilty, his captors released him to another militant group, which set him free 10 days later.
"In the sky there are drones, and on the ground there's Khorasan Mujahedin," said the relative. "Villagers are extremely terrorized. Whenever there's a drone strike, within 24 hours Khorasan Mujahedin comes in and takes people away."
Most of them are killed. The group, named after an early Islamic empire that covered a large part of Central Asia, dumps the bodies on roadsides, usually with scraps of paper attached to their bloodied tunics that warn others of the consequences of spying for the U.S. Executions are often videotaped and distributed to DVD kiosks in Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan's largest city, to hammer home the message.
Mullah Ron Paul
December 29, 2011 - 6:16 am - by David P. Goldman
Rep. Ron Paul’s defense of Iran’s nuclear weapons program should surprise no one. The same resentment motivates Ron Paul and the Iranian leadership — a paranoid hostility toward a world that is swiftly changing and has little mercy, and a Millenarian desire to return to a mythical, untroubled past. Get rid of the Federal Reserve, scourge the bankers, return to a gold standard and erect a wall around the United States — and we will return to when? To 1957, when the Russians launched the first space satellite, alerting the United States to the danger that it might lose the Cold War? Then, as always, we prevailed, but by the skin of our teeth. Ron Paul’s program is an American version of the Iranian desire to return to a world of Islamic purity that never existed, any more than did a golden age of American isolationism.
America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America embodies the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Now China has become an agent of creative destruction as well, the consequence of its partial adoption of the American model. China indirectly brought about the so-called Arab Spring, by driving up world grain prices and pricing the Arab poor out of the world market for food. Chinese pigs will eat before Arab peasants; food insecurity (if not actual starvation) undermined the Arab dictatorships.
Iranian resentment is understandable. They recall the Brontosaurus in an old Far Side cartoon, standing at the dais addressing an auditorium full of dinosaurs: “The climate is changing, our food supply is dwindling, and we have a brain the size of a peanut. I’d say we’re in trouble.” Islam is a religion of traditional society, of iron constraints and unquestioned hierarchies. By teaching Iranian girls to read, the late Shah set off a cultural chain-reaction: fertility has fallen from 7 children per female a generation ago to just 1.5 today, a catastrophic decline unparalleled in demographic history. And mosque attendance is down to only 2% by some estimates. Creative destruction has burst in upon Iran and turned its society inside-out. The mullahs still have all the money in Iran’s hydrocarbon monoculture, and almost all the guns, and they will do anything necessary to turn the clock back. Their world is disappearing in front of their eyes. They have nothing to lose.
Of course, the mullahs would have nothing without the global economy; after oil, Iran exports nothing but pistachios and carpets. Without foreign oil companies, the mullahs could not drill, pump, or ship their hydrocarbons. The whole apparatus of Iranian Islam is a theme park, an Shi’ite Disneyland funded by oil revenues, perpetuating a barbaric society that could not feed itself without global demand for the natural resources that, by unlucky accident, happen to be located in Iranian territory.
Mullah Paul voices the same fear and resentment in its milder American form. He has in common with the Iranians a desire to make the world go away, and a fixed idea that an evil conspiracy brought about all the problems. Ron Paul isn’t an Iranian, to be sure; he’s just the closest an American can come to thinking like an Iranian without actually moving there.
Creative destruction felt good in the United States as long as the rest of the world parked its savings in our real estate market — a total of $6 trillion flowed in from overseas between 1998 and 2007, the equivalent of a whole year’s output of the U.S. economy. And as long as America was swimming on foreign savings, and home prices were rising, Americans saw no need to save. Our good fortune, to be sure, did not derive from an economic accident, but rather from the fact that America’s political system and free markets made us the world’s best venue for investments. Now we have competition. We’re no longer the only game in town.
Report: Hizbullah Laundered Drug Money in US Banks
The Hizbullah terrorist organization is in trouble for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug trafficking revenues in US banks.
The Hizbullah terrorist organization is in hot water over a scheme to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in multi-national drug trafficking revenues.
According to a report published by the World News Tribune, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization is using American banks and other financial institutions to process money earned from trafficking in South America.
The complaint filed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice, charges Hizbullah with using the money to buy used cars in the U.S. for transport to West Africa, where they are then sold, mostly in Benin.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bhara noted, "It puts into start relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism."
According to a British security source, Hizbullah also sets up straw companies in African and Arab countries which then sell vehicles and/or other goods. Hizbullah operatives also steal passports, which are then used to cover terrorists as they travel the world to raise money.
However, some intelligence sources are questioning how much of the funds are actually being used for the day-to-day operations of the terrorist organization, and how much is going to line the pockets of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
American intelligence sources quoted by a Saudi newspaper said the group's secretary-general is worth some $250 million -- and the bank accounts of his deputy, Sheikh Naim Qassem, and other top terror officials may total as much as $2 billion.
The money is allegedly laundered through a complex chain of accounts around the globe using pseudonyms. Millions of dollars are periodically funneled from the accounts of Hizbullah leaders or those of their wives, to those of senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the sources said.
The money is then transferred back to Hizbullah from the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the source said.
Our Growing Police State
By Matt Holzmann
Last week, the FBI released its preliminary crime statistics for the first half of 2011, and across the nation violent crimes dropped 6.7% while property crimes dropped 3.7%. This continues a downward trend that dates back to the 1970's.
Many of the violent crimes reported this year have been sensational. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Federal Judge John Roll were targeted by a lone, crazed gunman and there were a number of other gruesome crimes. The Giffords/Roll shooting was brought to an end by a bystander. The Ft. Hood massacre on November 5, 2009, which killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 29 others was brought to an end by two base police officers using conventional sidearms and procedures. The warning signs for this terrorist attack, the first on American soil since 9/11, were ignored and yet it was the local cops on the beat who faced and dealt with a terrible crime.
Every case one can think of was resolved by conventional methods. And yet the police powers of government on a local and national level have been growing at an alarming rate. And despite a dissonant data base there is a growing trend towards militarization of police forces and of an invasive state security apparatus.
The concept of militarization of police forces in this country began with the Special Weapons & Tactics (SWAT) teams in Los Angeles in 1967 -68. Its formation was a response to events including the Watts riots of 1965, and the emergence of snipers such as Charles Whitman, who killed 13 people on the campus of the University of Texas in 1966; the rise of armed revolutionary groups such as the Weathermen and, later, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Eventually SWAT returned to a more traditional police role of hostage/barricade incidents and suicide intervention.
Prior to and concurrent with this, the FBI in its battle with communism regularly investigated American citizens and the Hoover Files became famous. Today they are known primarily for salacious tidbits in the files on celebrities such as John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe. It was a time with different mores and the democratic principles of the country were in a cold war with a real and formidable enemy. Such was Hoover's justification.
With the fall of the Soviet Empire, instead of the "end of history", the world was fragmented into dysfunctional states and many of the same pawns used during the Cold War turned their hands towards criminal operations. The drug wars became the new front for law enforcement. Sometimes the gangs were as well or better equipped than the police.
2011: The Year the Wheels Fell Off
By Jed Babbin on 12.30.11 @ 6:08AM
The good news is that 2011 is finally over. The bad news is that 2012 is upon us.
The coming year will not give us a break from the steady stream of political knavery, green graft and governmental stupidity that 2011 delivered, though it will surely provide a flood of politically-induced comedy.
JANUARY: An enterprising BBC reporter -- seeking to prove the practicality of electric cars -- drove from London to Edinburgh. The journey took four days -- longer than a horse-drawn stage would have taken for the trip 150 years ago -- including nine stops of up to ten hours.
(In its first crisis summit of the year, EU leaders declared they would impose Germanic controls on its members' sovereign debts and toasted each other with large portions of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac. Meanwhile, in the first Republican presidential debate, both television viewers cheered when twelve contenders, apparently chosen at random, actually showed up.)
FEBRUARY: Chicago chose as its new mayor former White House chief of staff Rahm Effing Emanuel, who immediately ordered a voter registration drive in the city's cemeteries. Shortly after that, the "Arab spring training season" began in Egypt. After Secretary of State Hillary said that the Mubarak regime was stable, the Cairo Clubbers traded their top grenade thrower to the Port Said Molotovs for two machine-gunners and a future draft pick.
(In an urgent crisis summit, Eurozone leaders sought to solve Greece's insolvency by imposing budget rationalization written by Italian PM Silvio Burlesqueoni. Eurozone leaders toasted each other's wisdom with a tiny sip of Dom Perignon 1975 champagne. Burlesqueoni requisitioned the rest of the bottle for what he called a "bunga-bunga" party, which term had to be translated for the media by Bill Clinton.)
MARCH: In January, Obama had proclaimed France our best and strongest ally. Because the French never forgive a favor, Sarkozy dragged Obama into his war for glory in Libya. Barry called it a "kinetic military action" and cute little Sarah called it a "squirmish." My blazingly brilliant pal, Andy McCarthy, said that henceforth we should call acts of terrorism "kinetic Islam." Barry told Congress to stuff its War Powers Resolution because bombing Libya wasn't a hostile act. Meanwhile, Hillary called Syria's Bashar Assad a "reformer."
Obama's hostility was reserved for Israel, and only increased when Israeli PM Netanyahu schooled him in front of the television cameras. Despite comments from both governments, it was clear that Obama's anger, in this instance, emanated only from the fact that Bibi pulled it off without a teleprompter.
Phares: Obama Administration Failing to Contain Iran
Respected Middle East expert Walid Phares tells Newsmax.TV that Iran is playing a “very dangerous game” by threatening to close the vital Strait of Hormuz oil route – a move that the Obama administration is unprepared to stop.
“The Iranian regime does saber rattling, thinking this is a good strategy. But at the same time this is a very dangerous business because they may choose to stop shipments coming to the [Persian] Gulf or through the Gulf as a result of our sanctions and that of course is going to draw United States, Eurpoean, NATO and international response,” Phares warns in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
“The Iranians are playing a very dangerous game here even by issuing those statements and by deploying some of their ships in the Gulf.”
And, Phares said, the Obama administration has clearly failed to contain the Iranian regime thus far. The situation in the Middle East is looking increasingly bleak just as the nation is pulling out of Iraq.
“The Obama administration tried. It had done some sanctions. It made statements, but the results are in what we see on the ground,” according to Phares. “The Iranian regime today is stronger than it was ever before.”
While the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq has been accomplished, Phares says that the country is now much more vulnerable to Iranian influence and is being used to help bolster Bashar Assad's besieged government in Syria.
“Let’s put it very simply. Iran today has a great influence over politics and national security in Iraq and that is a strategic failure for us,” he said. “The reason why the Assad regime is not crumbling is because the Iranians are capable of supporting it. They have been sending logistics and money and revolutionary guards to assist the Syrian regime in the suppression of its own people.”
In addition to its alliances with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria, Iran also has reportedly been supportive of an uprising in northern Yemen and has been active in Africa.
“And as we all know, they now have a strategic alliance with [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez’ regime in this hemisphere,” adds Phares.
The latest crisis shows all too clearly that Iran is an expansionist power, Phares says. Iran's navy chief, Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi, issued his country's first threat to close the strait on Tuesday if the West imposes new sanctions targeting oil exports over the country's suspect nuclear program. That led to a counter-warning from the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet that any disruption “will not be tolerated.”
Phares believes the stakes are even higher in the present standoff between Tehran and Washington than they were during the 1980s based on Iran’s growing reach in other parts of the world.
“They have influence in Iraq, in the Gulf,” said Phares, who briefs Congress, the European Parliament, and the U.N. Security Council on matters related to international security and Middle East conflict. “They have been threatening Arabian and also American interests and they have allies — including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria — so this could spiral into a regional conflict if the Iranian regime decides to do anything in the Hormuz Strait.”
Despite reservations, President Barack Obama has said he plans to sign a bill approved by Congress to ban dealings with the Iran Central Bank, which handles transactions by European and Asian nations that import oil from the world's fourth-largest oil producer.
The bill would impose penalties on foreign firms that do business with the central bank though critics have warned that the measure might also impose hardships on U.S. allies and drive up oil prices.
With an output of about 4 million barrels a day, Iran derives about 80 percent of its public revenue from oil exports.
The dispute stems from accusations by the United States and its allies that Iran has been using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons — charges that Iran has denied. Iranian officials insist that the country’s nuclear program is intended to generate electricity and produce medical radioisotopes for cancer patients.
“Why would you have missiles if you don’t have the intention to deploy nukes with those missiles?” asks Phares, who also advises several national security and defense agencies as well as counterterrorism advisory boards in North America and Europe. “At the same time at the United Nations Security Council we have not been able to get a strong Chapter 7-based resolution [dealing with force] that would stop the Iranian project. So unfortunately the Iranians are moving forward — sometimes back burner, sometimes front burner — but they are moving forward, unfortunately.”
Of the GOP presidential candidates, Phares said he is most concerned with the campaign rhetoric of Rep. Ron Paul, which he calls “disastrous” for the United States.
He said that the other candidates, and particularly former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, appear to have a “clear idea about the Iranian threat” and plan to confront it in some fashion if elected president.
While the United States appears to have sufficient oil reserves to meet its immediate needs, Phares warned that the continued flow of foreign oil will be critical to sustain the American economy over time.
“It is very important on the one hand to make sure we have a national reserve of oil open for business in America. That has to be done,” he insists. “On the other hand, making sure to contain Iran: These are the two pillars of our oil policy in the future, I hope.”
Egypt raids foreign organizations’ offices in crackdown
Three U.S. groups are among those raided. Activists say the army is using the ruse of foreign intervention to stoke nationalism and deflect criticism of abuses.
Egypt police raid civil rights groups
Egyptian Raids on U.S. Groups Draw Ire
We are living in Orwellian times.
A few days ago, I posted THIS here at IBA: "The End Of Blogging?" SOPA looms. Its power to silence voices is nearly unlimited.
It's not farfetched to realize that our days of freedom of speech on the web are numbered.
Furthermore, I expect that 2012 will bring the closing of all sorts of web sites, particularly blogs that are controversial.
I won't quit speaking out until my blog is shuttered by the forces of silencing voices, until I'm in jail, or until I die. After all, I'm an old woman. I don't have much to lose, really. The life I loved ended when Mr. AOW had his crippling stroke in 2009.
But I doubt that younger folks feel the way that I do. And I can't blame them for feeling that way.
"Life goes on, even after the thrill of living is gone."
PR Newswire reported:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced today that an anti-Muslim Internet hate site that contained a number of threats of violence targeting mosques, including the comment “I want [Muslim] blood on my hands,” has been taken down by its hosting company.Of course, CAIR has never acted to have any Jihadi site (calling for war on Infidels and Jews) taken down, have they?
CAIR said visitors to “Bare Naked Islam,” hosted by WordPress.com, now see the message: “barenakedislam.wordpress.com is no longer available. This blog has been archived or suspended for a violation of our Terms of Service.”
[NOTE: "Bare Naked Islam" was one of the major promoters of the campaign to pressure Lowe's to drops its ads from TLC's "All-American Muslim."]
Last month, CAIR called on the FBI to investigate the threats of violence targeting mosques posted on the blog and urged WordPress.com to remove it for violating the hosting company’s terms of service (TOS), which prohibit blogs that “contain threats or incite violence towards individuals or entities.” Articles and comments posted on “Bare Naked Islam” urged attacks on and desecration of American and European mosques.
No, they have not.
Because CAIR is the enemy.
And, you know what a sensible nation does to it's enemies.
Megyn Kelly Reveals Past Airplane Breastfeeding Flub On-Air
There’s no doubting that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has endeared herself to her audience. She’s wildly popular with a loyal fan base. And Thursday afternoon she may have showed why: she’s not afraid to go off script and even get personal. Case in point: she revealed she once had a potentially embarrassing breastfeeding incident on a plane.
Fox reporter Trace Gallagher was discussing the recent “nurse-ins,” where mothers — in response to a fellow mother being asked not to breastfeed at a Target store — descended on stores across the country to breastfeed their babies in public. And after he wrapped up his report, Kelly offered a personal anecdote.
“You know, I got a lot of thoughts on this, Trace,” she explained with a smile on her face. “Let me just put it this way: I used to feel a lot differently before I had babies and you’re breastfeeding; they need to be fed and then sometimes they don’t like the cover. And before you know it, you‘re Megyn Kelly and you’re showing your breasts to a whole plane.”
Gallagher responded by laughing and clapping his hands — which is about all he could do at that point.
You can watch her tell the story below:
Michele Bachmann Reveals Her ‘Favorite’ Gun: ‘An AR-15′ — Here’s Why
Have you ever wondered what presidential candidate Michele Bachmann considers her favorite gun? Well wonder no more: it’s an AR-15.
Bachmann made the revelation during a radio interview with WHO-AM RADIO on Thursday morning. But that wasn’t the only gun-related news she discussed. She also talked about how she‘s a concealed carry permit holder and how she’s actually set to go on an upcoming bird hunt with Rep. Steve King.
“Hey, I’m a pretty good shot, I got to tell you,” she said, later adding, “I learned how to hunt here in Iowa from my dad. I went through gun safety when I was 12. … And I scored the best in my class of any of the men, too, in that class.”
So why does she like the AR-15 so much? “Because you can be so accurate with it.”
“I love it. I love it, it’s a great gun. I like being accurate, and that is a great gun.”
You can listen to her describe her love for the AR-15, as well as the size of her magazine, below:
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Syrians Fire on Protesters Despite Presence of Monitors
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.
The ongoing violence, and new questions about the human rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a farce for President Bashar Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.
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.
The 60 Arab League monitors, who began work Tuesday, are the first Syria has allowed in during the nine-month anti-government uprising. They are supposed to ensure the regime complies with terms of the Arab League plan to end Assad's nine-month crackdown on dissent. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have died in the uprising since March.
The plan, which Syria agreed to on Dec. 19, demands that the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks with the opposition and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. It also calls for the release of all political prisoners.
Syria has allowed the monitors in, released about 800 prisoners and pulled some of its tanks from the city of Homs. But it has continued to shoot and kill unarmed protesters and has not lived up to any other terms of the agreement.
Syria's top opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, told reporters in Cairo after meeting Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby that the aim of the mission is not only to observe, but to make sure that the Syrian government is "stopping the killing and shooting." He added that the Syrian government is holding more than 100,000 detainees, "some of them held in military barracks and aboard ships off the Syrian coast." He added: "There is real danger that the regime might kill them to say there are no prisoners."
State-run TV said monitors also visited the Damascus suburb of Harasta, the central city of Hama and the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March.
The Observatory said a total of 21 people have been shot by security forces and killed on Thursday, most of them in several suburbs of Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 35 people were killed. The differing death tolls could not be immediately reconciled as Syria bans most foreign journalists and keeps tight restrictions on the local media.
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."
In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle demanded "unhindered access" for the Arab League observers to all key points in Syria, his ministry said Thursday. That includes not just cities such as Homs, but "also the possibility to speak unhindered with representatives of the opposition, civil society and with prisoners of the regime," a ministry statement said.
Westerwelle "expects from the observer mission a thorough approach and a clear, unvarnished picture of the situation," it added.
The Syrian government organized a tour to the restive central city of Homs, where one team of monitors has been working for the last three days. A Syrian official in Homs said six observers were there on Thursday.
At the entrance to the city, which witnessed much of the violence in the past months, two checkpoints were stopping cars and asking for people's identity cards. Inside, most shops were closed and streets had few people and cars as sporadic gunfire rang out. Most main streets were clean, but side streets were lined with dozens of garbage bags.
At the military hospital, one of the largest in the city, a large number of civilians and members of the military were receiving treatment. One of them was a soldier who was shot in the stomach while in a Homs street Thursday morning. He was undergoing an operation, his mother said.
"My son did not harm anyone. He is a soldier to protect the country," said his mother, Zeinab Jaroud, as she stood holding back here tears outside the operating room.
Brig. Gen. Ali Assi, head of the Military Hospital in Homs, told The Associated Press that in the past months, they have treated civilians, members of the military and police as well as gunmen. He said the between March 25 and Nov. 11, the hospital treated 1,819 soldiers, 251 policemen and 232 civilians. He added that 557 people, mostly soldiers, either died in the hospital or were brought dead.