Observers head to Syria for peace plan

Observers head to Syria for peace plan

Observers head to Syria for peace plan

Syrian soldiers chant slogans during a rally at Umayyad Square in Damascus. AP photo

Arab League delegates traveled to Syria yesterday to arrange the deployment of foreign monitors under a plan aimed at ending the regime’s deadly 9-month-old crackdown on dissent.

The opposition suspects Assad’s agreement to allow hundreds of Arab League monitors in, after weeks of stalling, is only a tactic to buy time and ward off a new round of international sanctions and condemnation. They said Assad was only intensifying his crackdown ahead of the arrival of the observers, a sure sign he is not sincere about calming violence. Pro-democracy activists called on Facebook for nationwide protests for today against the observer mission, with the slogan “Protocol of death, a license to kill.” Fresh raids and indiscriminate shooting by government forces yesterday killed at least six people in the central city of Homs, and in the south and northern provinces, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.

The advance team consists of a dozen security, legal and administrative staff from the League’s secretariat who will make the logistical preparations for the arrival on Dec. 25 of an initial 30 observers.

“Their mission is to consult with Syrian officials to prepare for the delegation’s visit,” Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi told a Cairo news conference. He also said the team would issue daily reports that would be shown to but not vetted by the Syrian authorities.

Elaraby said monitors would need no more than a week from arrival to see whether Syria was abiding by the peace plan. He said 10 four-wheel drive vehicles were being sent from Iraq to Syria to help out the observers.

Veteran Sudan officer leads the team

The mission’s leader, veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, said its numbers would swell to a total of between 150 and 200 in the following days. According to the protocol governing the mission, they will number an “amount reasonable to accomplish the mission” and will include “Arab civilian and military experts chosen by Arab countries or organizations.” Their task will consist of “monitoring the cessation of violence on all sides, and to ensure the release of detainees arrested in connection with the current crisis,” according to the text of the protocol. Observers “should be free to communicate with anyone, in coordination with the Syrian government.” Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said he expects the observers to vindicate Damascus’s claims that the unrest has been caused by “armed terrorist groups,” not peaceful protesters as maintained by Western governments and human rights watchdogs. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the regime’s crackdown since mid-March.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff