Syrian death toll increases despite observer mission

Syrian death toll increases despite observer mission

Syrian death toll increases despite observer mission

Demonstrators protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Kafranbel near Idlb in this photo. Arab monitors headed to three more Syrian cities yesterday. REUTERS photo

Regime forces fired on protesters at a protest hub near Damascus, killing at least 13 people around Syria yesterday as Arab League peace monitors headed to three more Syrian cities: Deraa, Hama and Idlib.

At least four demonstrators were killed and more than 20 others wounded in Douma, the protest center just north of the capital, when security forces sprayed protesters with bullets outside a mosque, a rights group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shooting broke out as Arab League observers arrived at Douma’s city hall on the third day of a mission designed to halt a lethal government crackdown on dissent.

The monitors were yesterday due to visit flashpoints around Damascus, as well as the northern and central cities of Idlib and Hama and southern Deraa province. Deraa is the cradle of an unprecedented nine month protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has ruled Syria with an iron fist for 11 years.

Activists say more than 70 civilians have been killed by security forces since the first group of monitors arrived in Syria Dec. 26 on a month-long renewable mission to implement an Arab League peace plan. Gunfire rattled in Douma where “tens of thousands” of protesters rallied outside the Grand Mosque and regime forces opened fire on the demonstrators “as Arab observers arrived at the city hall,” it said. France, the United States and Human Rights Watch have warned the Syrian regime against trying to hide facts from the monitors, while Paris has said the team was not being allowed to see what was happening in Homs.

Criticism to Sudanese head of observers

China also expressed its support for Arab monitors in Syria yesterday. China is a key Syrian ally and, along with Russia, has used its veto on the U.N. Security Council to block a Western-backed resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “China welcomes the Arab League observers’ objective investigations in Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. China “hopes parties concerned can make joint efforts to earnestly implement the mission protocol to create conditions for the proper settlement of Syria’s crisis.”

Syrian opposition activists meanwhile criticized the Sudanese head of the Arab League monitoring mission to Syria for serving as a senior official with the “oppressive regime” of President Omar al-Bashir, who is under an international arrest warrant on charges of committing genocide in Darfur. 
Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi is a longtime loyalist of al-Bashir and once served as his head of Sudanese military intelligence. Amnesty International said that under al-Dabi’s command, military intelligence in the early 1990s “was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan.”

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.