League extends mission in Syria extra month
CAIRO / DAMASCUS
Arab League Secretary General al-Arabi (L) and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani (R) attend the Arab League meeting in Cairo in this file photo. AFP photoThe Arab League yesterday extended for another month its heavily criticized observer mission to unrest-swept Syria, where activists said Army defectors briefly overran a protest hub near Damascus.
The decision was made during a meeting by Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital, where they decided to add extra members to the mission and provide them with more resources. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the United Nations would train the observers.
The move had been widely expected after the troubled mission technically expired Jan. 19. Many in Syria’s opposition movement have complained the observers failed to curb the bloodshed in the country as the regime cracks down on a 10-month-old uprising against it.
Meanwhile, Syrian security forces retreated from the center of one of the biggest Damascus suburbs yesterday after intense clashes with anti-government Army defectors, activists said.
Activists: Gov’t troops pulled back in Douma
It was the second area abandoned by government troops in less than a week as the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad becomes militarized. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdul-Rahman said government troops had pulled back early yesterday to a provincial headquarters and a security agency building in the Damascus suburb of Douma after hours of clashes, although they still controlled the entrances.
Conflict broke out after Syrian troops opened fire at a funeral Jan. 21. Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso confirmed security forces had abandoned Douma. Central Damascus has for most of Syria’s 10-month uprising been under the tight control of forces loyal to al-Assad, but its suburbs have witnessed intense anti-regime protests. Last week, Army defectors took control of the mountain town of Zabadani on the western edge of the capital, near the border with Lebanon. Zabadani is still out of government control and Army defectors control all its entrances. Yesterday’s report was delivered by the mission’s chief, Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, a League official said.
In a statement late Jan. 21, Dabi said the mission’s mandate was “to verify the Syrian government has implemented the terms of an Arab League plan, not to stop the bloodshed and violence.” But the opposition Syrian National Council has been lobbying for U.N. intervention and said it would reveal “a counter-report” later yesterday to try to discredit Dabi’s account.
The SNC said it also plans to send a delegation to the U.N. to press the Security Council for an intervention. In Jan. 21 a roadside bomb killed 17 detainees being transported in a prison truck in the Idlib province in the northwest of the country, said the Observatory. State news agency SANA said “an armed terrorist group” attacked the vehicle in Al-Mastouma area, “killing 14 prisoners and wounding 26 others.”