Syria bloodshed defies Arab monitor mission

Sun Jan 1, 2012 6:43pm EST
 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian security forces killed eight more protesters and an Arab League organization urged Arab monitors to leave Syria, saying unrelenting bloodshed made a mockery of their mission.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces, keen to prevent huge protest rallies under the monitors' eyes, have killed at least 286 people since December 23, the day before the mission's leader arrived in Syria, according to activists who tally casualties.

Some of Sunday's eight deaths occurred when security forces fired on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Daria, they said.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-strong advisory committee of delegates from the Arab League's member states, said the violence was continuing to claim many victims.

"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," its chairman, Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, said in Cairo.

"This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League," he said.

Assad's opponents, while welcoming the Arab mission as a rare chance for outsiders to witness events in Syria, had few illusions that the observers could halt a crackdown on dissent that U.N. officials say has cost over 5,000 lives since March.

The monitors are checking Syria's compliance with an Arab peace plan that calls for Assad to withdraw troops and tanks from the streets, release detainees and talk to his opponents.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby had said it should take only a week to see if Assad was keeping his word.

MONITORS VISIT DERAA

"The presence of monitors has not affected the behavior of the regime with hundreds killed and no let-up," said Rima Fleihan, from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

The Arab Parliament was the first body to recommend freezing Syria's League membership in protest at the bloodshed.

Arab monitors visiting Deraa, a southern town viewed as the cradle of the nine-month-old revolt, went to the home of Sheikh Ahmad Hayasneh, the elderly imam of the Omari mosque where the first big protests against Assad's 11 years in power erupted in March.

It was unclear if the monitors met Hayasneh, who residents say has been under house arrest for at least five months.

The Arab mission is still short of its planned strength of 150 observers and it relies on the government for transport and security to monitor events across a country of 23 million.

"The team has been escorted with the governor and there is no way for anyone other than security personnel to get anywhere near them," said Ibrahim Aba Zaid, an activist from Deraa.

Some statements by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, the mission's leader, have suggested a soft approach to the Syrian authorities, although some monitors have not minced their words.

"We saw snipers in the town, we saw them with our own eyes," one observer filmed in Deraa said in Arabic, visibly concerned. "We're going to ask the government to remove them immediately. We'll be in touch with the Arab League back in Cairo."

Dabi later told the BBC the observer's remarks, shown on a YouTube clip posted Saturday, had been misreported.

In another incident, shown on Al Arabiya television, a monitor in the embattled neighborhood of Bab Amro in Homs appealed to the authorities by telephone to stop firing there.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets in the past week in an apparent effort to show the Arab monitors the depth of their rejection of Assad's government.

"The Syrians want a modern regime in the New Year," read a placard carried by protesters in a suburb of Damascus.

Assad blames the unrest on foreign-backed armed Islamists who officials say have killed 2,000 security personnel.

He retains the support of much of his minority Alawite community and, despite some defections, of the armed forces. While anti-Assad sentiment runs high in the provinces, there have been few protests in central parts of Damascus or Aleppo.

(Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by David Stamp)

 
<p>Arab League observers speak to each other in Idlib December 30, 2011. Syrian security forces, undaunted by the presence of Arab League observers, have killed at least 12 protesters as hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said. REUTERS/Handout</p>