Middle East

Eyewitness: Syria observers tour town

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Media captionBBC footage of the unscheduled visit by Arab League observers to a Damascus suburb

Mohammad Ballout, of the BBC Arabic Service, accompanied three Arab League observers to the town of Irbine, on the outskirts of Damascus. This is his eyewitness report.

An extraordinary day for the residents of the town of Irbine. The town, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, was visited by observers from the Arab League on Thursday. They broke off from their official programme to visit the area unhindered by an official escort.

The BBC was able to film the ensuing demonstration without being stopped by the army or pro-government militia.

The security forces stayed on the sidelines, allowing the protest to go ahead. During the five hour visit, the observers moved about the town freely.

Image caption Arab League monitors surrounded by a chanting crowd in Irbine

Protesters gathered quickly in front of the police station, surrounded the observers and led them to the centre of the city where they were joined by hundreds of residents eager to tell them what had happened in their town.

The group of observers - made up of three Algerian diplomats - was able to record the accounts of the resident of the town freely.

Three veiled women said the security forces had taken hostage one of their brothers to force them to hand over another man. The observers were told that Ghayas Halabi was killed in an operation by the security forces, while the hostage, Yassine Halabi, was never freed.

A father told the observers that his son was killed by a sniper as he left a mosque on a protest day in the town. He said soldiers "finished off" his injured son with a knife.

A group of activists in face masks arrived in a truck and distributed banners and flags. A demonstration followed and a chant went up in the crowd demanding the execution of President Bashar al-Assad.

The observers accompanied the crowd to the city's main mosque. One of them took part in the prayer. The two other observers went into an office beside the mosque to hear the residents' complaints and to receive a list of those who had been detained or had been missing without news for more than a month.