Syria open to extending Arab League mission

Monitors likely to be kept in place after expiry of month-long mandate, amid reports of new protests and deaths.

    Arab observer have visited many towns but the mission has been criticised since killings have not stopped [Reuters]

    Syria has said that the Arab league’s mission in its country could be extended beyond its month-long mandate if both sides agree to it, but acknowledged that at this point it is not up to Damascus to decide this.

    The regional bloc will decide on its next move at a meeting between monitors and the bloc's foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday.

    Two senior Arab League senior officials told the Associated Press news agency that the organisation was likely to extend its monitoring mission, initiated to verify whether an Arab peace plan was working, after several nations that had been opposed to the extension changed their position in recent days.

    The officials said on Friday that the direction within the Arab League was to keep the mission in place as the international community was not yet ready for "escalation" to an intervention in Syria.

    NATO's most senior officer said on Thursday that the alliance was not planning or even "thinking" of intervening in Syria.

    The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghaliun, headed to Cairo to lobby the Arab ministers to refer the observer mission's findings to the UN Security Council.

    Ghaliun planned to "ask the head of the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers to transfer the file on Syria to the UN Security Council with a view to securing a decision to establish a buffer zone and a no-fly zone" in Syria, an SNC statement said.

    Continued violence

    The developments came as violence continued unbated in Syria. Activists said at least seven people were killed on Friday, and about 30 others a day earlier.

    Protests were reported in several cities on Friday, as activists called on Syrians to take to the streets in support of thousands of people jailed since the uprising began in March.

    Some demonstrators chanted slogans against Russia, Syria's ally, which has vowed to block any attempts to UN-sanctioned military intervention.


    Activists say the army has pulled out of the town of Zabadani after a ceasefire was approved

    The one-month Arab League mission expired on Thursday, but Adnan al-Khudeir, head of the Cairo operations room that handles reports by the monitors, told the Associated Press news agency that the bloc had extended it until after Sunday's meeting in Cairo.

    The Arab League mission has been widely criticised for being ineffective in reducing violence,

    Human Rights Watch said there was no sign of any let-up in the authorities' crackdown, with activists reporting 506
    civilians killed by the security forces and a further 490 detained since their deployment on December 26.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 146 members of the security forces, including 27 who had deserted to the opposition, had also been killed.

    More than 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad erupted last March, according to the United Nations.

    Reliable casualty figures are hard to come by in Syria, where media access has been limited.

    The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and announced sanctions for its failure to comply with a November peace plan which required that it halt the bloodshed, withdraw military forces from the streets, free detainees, provide access to Arab monitors and the media, and open a political dialogue with opposition groups.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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