BEIRUT — Arab League monitors gathered accounts about the Syrian government's crackdown on dissent in the central city of Homs Wednesday as fresh violence flared just dozens of miles away. Activists said troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, killing at least six.
Though President Bashar Assad's regime has made concessions to the observers, including the release of nearly 800 prisoners, the military was pressing ahead with a campaign to put down mostly peaceful protests.
In the two days since the Arab monitors arrived, activists said troops have killed at least 39 people, including the six shot in the central city of Hama on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the monitors are expected to visit Hama, Idlib and Daraa — all centers of the uprising.
The continued bloodshed — and comments by an Arab League official praising Syria's cooperation — have fueled concerns by the Syrian opposition that the Arab mission is a farce and a distraction from the ongoing killings.Arab League: 'Nothing frightening' in Syria hotspot
The opposition suspects Assad is only trying to buy time and forestall more international sanctions and condemnation.
"This mission has absolutely no mandate, no authority, no teeth," said Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group. "The regime does not feel obliged to even bring down the number of casualties a day."
The 60 monitors — the first Syria has allowed in during the nine-month uprising — are supposed to be ensuring the regime is complying with terms of a plan to end a crackdown the U.N. says has killed more than 5,000 people since March.
The plan, which Syria agreed to on Dec. 19, demands that the regime 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.
On Wednesday, the government released 755 prisoners following a report by Human Rights Watch accusing authorities of hiding hundreds of detainees from the monitors. It was the second concession in two days.
The army on Monday pulled some of its troops back from the central city of Homs after bombarding it for days and killing scores of people. Monitors who were allowed into the city were met by tens of thousands of protesters who called for Assad's execution.
Images obtained by The Associated Press from the city in the days leading up to the monitors' visit show army defectors inside a bombed-out building, firing machine guns through gaping holes in a wall.
In another, a huge crowd fills the street for a nighttime rally behind a giant banner of the uprising's revolutionary flag. A row of women wear the flags and a large sign overhead reads: "All the doors are closed except your door, God."
There are also photos of wounded civilians lying on a floor in pools of blood, and being treated with crude medical equipment. Another shows an alleyway with blood smeared on a wall and pooled on the ground.
At a Dec. 21 protest, a banner reads: "To the Arab League: Your initiative cannot protect us from death." Young girls with headbands that read "Leave!" and sashes calling for the "execution of Bashar" protest under banners with "Freedom and Dignity."
The images show the intensity of the opposition against Assad's regime, which brought on the offensive against Homs that began on Friday and lasted until monitors arrived Tuesday to start their one-month mission with a visit to the city.
Several from the team of 12 stayed in Homs overnight and they continued to work there Wednesday. There was no word on whether other teams went to different cities.
According to officials and activists, the monitors went to several districts of Homs, including trouble spots in Baba Amr, Bab Sbaa and Inshaat.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.