Arab body chief wants Syria monitors recalled

Arab League observers face calls for their immediate withdrawal, while divisions re-emerge among Syria opposition.

Syria Arab League monitor
Syrian activists have criticised the observers’ mission, calling it a farce [Reuters]

The chief of an advisory body to the Arab League has called for the immediate withdrawal of the group’s observer mission in Syria, saying its monitors are inadvertently helping the government cover up continued violence.

Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, who chairs the Arab Parliament, an 88-member advisory committee of delegates from each of the League’s member states, said on Sunday that the violence in Syria was continuing to claim victims despite the presence of observers.

The monitors are on a month-long mission to ensure the government of President Bashar al-Assad complies with the terms of the League’s plan to end the crackdown on dissent.  

But the parliament called on Nabil El-Araby, the league’s secretary-general, to convene a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to adopt a resolution to withdraw the mission immediately.

“For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission,” al-Salem said.

“This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League.”

The Arab Parliament was the first body to recommend freezing Syria’s membership in the organisation in response to Assad’s crackdown.

An Arab League official, commenting on the parliament’s statement, told the Reuters news agency that it was too early to judge the mission’s success, saying it was scheduled to remain in Syria for a month and that more monitors were on their way.

Contradictory statements

In yet another sign of cracks among the observer mission, disputes emerged on Sunday over the reported appearance of government snipers across Syria.

Ashraf al -Moqdad of the opposition Damascus Declaration says the Arab League mission is failing

Activists say more than 150 people have died since the observers began their mission five days ago.

Protesters have accused the government of posting snipers on rooftops as part of their brutal crackdown, in which government forces have also been accused of firing tear gas, stun grenades and on Friday “nail bombs”.

In a video released by activists, a man wearing an orange vest with the Arab League logo said in Deraa: “There are snipers; we have seen them with our own eyes.”

“We ask the authorities to remove them immediately; if they don’t remove them within 24 hours there will be other measures,” the unnamed speaker in the video, which was dated Friday, told a crowd of people.

But veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who is heading the observer mission, said the official seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark.

“This man said that if he saw – by his own eyes – those snipers he will report immediately,” Dabi told the BBC’s Newshour programme. “But he didn’t see [snipers].”

Divisions within opposition

Amid the controversy, divisions within Syria’s opposition hoping to topple Assad hampered efforts towards a transitional plan for a new Syria.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the leading opposition group in exile, on Sunday quashed reports that it signed a deal with the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC), a group whose majority is inside Syria and which had disagreed with the SNC’s earlier calls for foreign intervention.

Waleed Al Buni, the director of foreign relations office at SNC, told Al Jazeera on Sunday “there is no agreement … it is just an idea or a suggestion that has yet to be submitted to the SNC leadership bodies for approval”.

“This is not the first time that NCC leaks info to media during bilateral negotiations and talks,” he said.

Meanwhile, Haytham al-Manna, the head of the NCC, told Al Jazeera that the deal had been sealed between the two blocs but that internal divisions emerged within the SNC that forced the bloc to retreat.

“Fifteen people from the National Co-ordination Committee and from the Syrian National Council participated in the [process], not only [Burhan] Ghallioun [the head of the SNC] and me. The text written came after 35 days of dialogue.”

Military intervention is believed to remain the major source of division between the two groups.

Under the pact that emerged on Saturday, the two sides would “reject any military intervention that harms the sovereignty or stability of the country, without considering Arab intervention to be foreign”.

The agreement also called for setting up a “parliamentary system for a democratic, pluralistic civil state and guarantees the exchange of power through elections.”

Violence in the new year

The latest developments came as Syrian anti-government protesters saw the New Year in with demonstrations in several flashpoint centres, activists said on Sunday, amid reports of more deaths in the government’s crackdown on dissent.

The youths of the revolution held huge and simultaneous protests overnight to welcome the New Year across Syria, said the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) network of activists.

Protesters took to the streets in Deraa, Idlib and Aleppo in the north, in the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishli in the northeast and in Zabadani near Damascus, the LCC said in a statement.

“The Local Committees corroborated in the year 2011, exactly 5,862 martyrs, including 321 male children, 74 female children and 146 women,” the group said in another statement.

The UN estimates unveiled in early December had also put the death toll in Syria at more than 5,000.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies