Middle East
Arab League monitors arrive in Syria
Activists report more deaths, hours before arrival of advance observer delegation in accordance with peace plan.
Last Modified: 23 Dec 2011 10:48

An advance team of seven Arab League officials has arrived in Syria to lay the groundwork for monitors to implement the group's peace plan which was signed by Damascus earlier this week.

The team arrived in Damascus on Thursday with the remainder of the Arab League mission scheduled to arrive this Saturday. 

The advance team is to prepare for the arrival of the first batch of observers and assess how to get media into the country as well. The number of journalist visas that Damascus will have to issue has still not been decided upon.

Al Jazeera sources expect between 30 to 50 officials to be part of this first mission, which is headed by Samir Saif al-Yazal, one of the Arab League's assistant secretary-generals.

Other members include security, legal and administrative observers as well as observers specialised in human rights and security issues.

Once all the officials arrive, they will indicate cities they will be visiting in accordance with the peace plan. Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League chief, has stated that protecting members of this mission is the Syrian government's responsibility.

The League will hold a meeting in Cairo at the foreign ministerial level during the first week of January to review the situation. Members of Syria's opposition will attend. The opposition will report to the League on December 26, and its recommendations will play a role in mapping out the agenda for January's meeting

Violence continues

Meanwhile, Syrian activists on Thursday reported the deaths of at least 15 people, including 12 in the central city of Homs and three in the northwestern city of Idlib.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from across the border in southern Turkey, said activists told her there was heavy security presence across Idlib and particularly in Jabal al-Jawya on Thursday.

"According to this activist, Jabal al-Zawya is under the total control of the Syrian army. Many people have fled the area. They are taking shelter in fields in that province," Khodr said.

"[Residents] were not able to escape into Turkey because the Syrian army beefed up its presence along the border."

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Syrian officials on their part said over 1,000 prisoners have been freed in the last six weeks and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party's grip on power.

State news agency SANA also said that more than 2,000 members of Syria's security forces have been killed in nine months since anti-regime protests broke out,

"In response to a fallacious [United Nations] report on the situation in Syria, we have informed the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the number of martyrs has surpassed 2,000 members of the security forces and the army," SANA said according to a letter reported to have been sent to the UN.

The UN has said that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the same period.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply sceptical about President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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