Arab observers to report back on Syria mission

Arab observers to report back on Syria mission

CAIRO - Agence France-Presse
Arab observers to report back on Syria mission

In this Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 photo, anti-Syrian regime protesters chant slogans and flash the victory sign as they march during a demonstration at the mountain resort town of Zabadani, Syria, near the Lebanese border. AP photo

The head of the Arab League's heavily criticised observer mission to Syria was due in Cairo on Thursday to report on its first month of operations amid growing frustration at its failure to staunch 10 months of bloodshed.

The pan-Arab bloc's deputy leader, Ahmed Ben Helli, said the "decisive" report would evaluate the Syrian government's cooperation with the mission, while noting the observers' difficulty in gaining access to hot spots.

"We are at a turning point, as the Arab observer mission's report will be presented on Thursday, marking a month since the protocol was signed," Ben Helli told Qatari state media late on Wednesday.

"The report will be decisive," Ben Helli added, alluding to the expiry Thursday of the hard-won mission's initial one-month mandate agreed with Damascus after months of exhaustive negotiation.

The League's Syria operations chief, Adnan Khodeir, said mission leader General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi would arrive at the bloc's headquarters in Cairo at around 6:30 pm (1630 GMT).

He would then hand over the report to League chief Nabil al-Arabi, either later Thursday or early Friday, ahead of meetings of Arab ministers on Saturday and Sunday.

Qatar, whose Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani chairs the Arab League panel on Syria, has been pressing for the observer mission to be given teeth through the deployment of Arab peacekeeping troops.

The Qatari proposal is not formally on the agenda of Sunday's foreign ministers' meeting to discuss the mission's future but could be discussed, Khodeir said.

"Any country that wishes can bring up the issue," he said, referring to the call by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa al-Thani, to send Arab troops to Syria, which Damascus has flatly rejected.

"What we are talking about now at the Arab League is whether there will be a new approach concerning the observer mission," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Arabi has also said the idea could come up for debate.

As activists reported another nine deaths at the hands of the Syrian security forces on Thursday, a coalition of some 140 Arab human rights groups demanded the withdrawal of the League's "flawed" mission and called for UN intervention.

Among the dead, were four leading pro-democracy activists who had gone into hiding and were killed in an ambush in Idlib province in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Arab mission, which currently numbers about 165 monitors, has been in Syria since December 26 to oversee an Arab road map under which President Bashar al-Assad's government agreed to end violence.

"No observers have been able to do their job: instead, the mission legitimises the Syrian regime," said Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies, in the rights groups' joint statement.

Former observer Anouar Malek, who resigned in protest over the mission's credibility and aims, echoed Ziadeh's criticism.

"I was threatened with death for doing my job as I watched people being killed, beaten up and arrested by police, soldiers and militiamen. The Syrian regime is plainly defying the Arab League.

"I join the coalition's call for an end to the mission and immediate action by the UN Security Council," he said.

The United Nations estimates that the unrest in Syria between the security forces and pro-democracy activists has left more than 5,400 people dead since it first erupted in March, with 400 killed since the observers' deployment.

But a tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, which defended the Arab mission on Wednesday.

"Since the Arab League observer mission began, the violence in Syria has not completely ended, but the security situation of major areas has improved," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

This "shows the mission is effective," he added.

For its part, Moscow has warned against Western calls for punitive measures against Damascus, insisting the Syrian opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.

That has caused growing frustration among Western governments.

Germany's UN envoy Peter Wittig said the Security Council "did not live up to its responsibilities" in face of the vetoing by Moscow and Beijing last October of a European-drafted resolution that would have threatened Damascus with "targeted measures."