Arab League debates future of Syria mission

Initial report by Arab League observers claims monitors were harassed by the Syrian government and its opponents.

The first report by Arab League observers in Syria recommends the controversial mission continue and says monitors were subjected to “harassment” by the government and the opposition.

The report recommends “the mission continue its work” with more technological assistance and “calls on the opposition and the government to let the mission move freely,” Arab League sources said on Sunday.

Arab League foreign ministers have gathered in Cairo to discuss the findings of observers sent by the body to Syria, and to gauge whether Damascus is honouring its pledge to end a 10-month-old crackdown on unrest and protests.

The Arab diplomat was speaking as the head of the observer mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, was briefing ministers in Cairo on the results of the monitors’ visit.

Ahmed bin Helli, a deputy secretary-general of the League, said al-Dabi will brief the committee with photographs, maps and comprehensive information on what observers witnessed.

‘Divisions’ within the meeting

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said that “there is division inside the meeting of the foreign ministers”.

“Basically the point of division is whether or not to widen the Arab League monitoring mission and to create a greater degree of international involvement, in particular, the United Nations,” said Hanna.

“We do understand that some of the delegates have been arguing in favour of this, in particular, Qatar, however others are opposed to any UN involvement, among them, we believe, the secretary general of the Arab League himself.”

He also said the Syrian government has only partially complied with its pledge to release political prisoners.

The group has said it will not withdraw the observers, which have been in Syria since December 26, but will instead focus on reinforcing the mission.

The ministers will also discuss ways the mission might operate more independently of Syrian authorities and whether or not to ask the United Nations for assistance.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists reported that violence was continuing on Sunday. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 11 Syrian soldiers had been killed in heavy clashes with rebel troops in the province of Deraa on Sunday.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an umbrella anti-government activist group, said that “heavy shelling  and … gunfire” had also been reported in Deir ez-Zor.

Because of reporting restrictions imposed by the Syrian government, Al Jazeera is unable to independently verify casualty figures.

UN assistance

Qatar, which currently heads the Arab League, has proposed inviting UN technicians and human rights experts to help Arab monitors judge whether Syria is honouring its pledge to stop repression, Arab League sources said.

Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said Syria was not implementing the terms of the Arab League peace plan it agreed, and monitors could not stay in Syria to “waste time”.

The Syrian army had not withdrawn from cities and there had been no end to the killing, he said. Arab League sources said ministers were likely to re-affirm support for the monitors, resisting calls to end what Syrian pro-democracy campaigners say is a toothless mission that buys more time for President Bashar al-Assad to suppress opponents.

Syria says it is providing the monitors with all they need and has urged them to show “objectivity and professionalism”.

Ten Jordanian monitors arrived in Damascus on Saturday, bringing the number of monitors involved to 153. The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Assad.

The 22-member Arab League suspended Syria in November after months of silence over the crackdown but some Arab leaders are uncomfortable about targeting one of their members given their own restive populations, diplomats say.

Assad’s opponents say Syrian authorities have systematically deceived the monitors, in some cases allegedly hiding prisoners in military facilities, falsifying routes and staging events for the monitors’ benefit.

Refugees wait

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, said Syrian refugees there have been anxiously waiting for any sort of development out of the Cairo meeting.

There was a gathering at the refugee camp on Sunday night, during which our correspondent said people were “denouncing the Arab League, saying that they have to show some robust stance when it comes to the monitoring mission”.

Ahelbarra also said protesters across Syria are calling for international intervention and an end to the Arab League mission, which many Syrians view as a failure.

It is the first time the Arab League has dispatched a peace monitoring mission to gauge one of its members.

“The opposition says the continuing violence, the killing of civillians and restrictions on the observer mission are all clear indications the government has failed to comply with the peace plan and now they want the international community to step in and use whatever means available to enforce a radical change in Syria,” our correspondent said.

Source: Aljazeera English

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