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Arab League Monitors Land in Embattled Syrian City of Homs as Protests Swell

December 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Outside observers sent in from the Arab League got a firsthand look today at open rebellion in Syria. The Arab officials journeyed to the battered city of Homs, where the military pulled back and up to 70,000 protesters turned out.

We begin our coverage with this report from Independent Television News narrated by Alex Thomson.

ALEX THOMSON: The Arab League delegation, possibly all that now stands between Syria and civil war, hearing it straight from the people of Homs.

Come to Baba Amr, they beg the observers, the district which has seen heavy fighting here. They’re led by this man, Sudanese General Mohamed al-Dabi. And the observers seem to mean business. They went to Baba Amr.

And they got here, too, the al-Hamidiyah district. “We want the president executed,” they chant. Tens of thousands gathered to protest here peacefully against the regime in Homs today, the regime, which had already pulled heavy armor out of the ancient city very publicly before the observers arrived.

And after that, volleys of tear gas from the Syrian army trying but failing to stop people reaching today’s mass rally in town.

RAMI ABDURRAHMAN, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (through translator): Eleven times, we withdrew early from Baba Amr district in Homs today, but the rest of the times, armed personnel carriers were hidden in government buildings in the area. The demonstrations in Homs are still going on today and we feel very optimistic about the presence of the monitors.

ALEX THOMSON: Another day of many unverifiable allegations from rebels and government alike — the government, for instance, blaming what it called terrorists for blowing up this gas pipeline near Homs today — rebels saying the Syrian army used live rounds on unarmed protesters at three other towns across the country today, again, impossible to prove.

So the Arab League must somehow now try and sort this out. So many of the images coming from Syria are naturally somewhat one-sided.

After one day at work, so far so good for the Arab League monitors. Their team stays in Homs overnight. For so long considered just a talking shop, could this be the moment when the Arab League comes of age?

GWEN IFILL: Late today, a White House statement condemned the Syrian military for the attack on Homs.

It said, if the violence continues, the international community will have to consider — quote — “other means to protect Syrian civilians.”