Arab League team in Syria to prepare monitoring

Analyst: Observers are "waste of time" as only military intervention can protect civilians; Syria: 2,000 soldiers killed in violence.

By OREN KESSLER
December 22, 2011 22:09
3 minute read.
Assad meets with Arab League ministerial team

Assad meets with Arab League ministerial team 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Sana Sana)

A team from the Arab League arrived in Syria on Thursday, ahead of the deployment of monitors to judge whether Damascus was implementing a peace plan to which it agreed last month.

The plan – to be supervised by some 150 monitors – entails a withdrawal of troops from Syrian cities, the release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

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Arab League sources have said the advance team has a dozen members, including financial, administrative and legal experts to ensure monitors have free access across Syria. The government of President Bashar Assad stalled for six weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors; the main group is to arrive by the end of the month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 people were killed on Thursday. Most were in the central city of Homs, but some were in the northern province of Idlib and the southern province of Deraa, where the anti-Assad protests first broke out in March. Thursday’s deaths came after Syrian forces surrounded and killed 111 people this week in Idlib in the deadliest assault since the uprising began.

Analysts cautioned against raising expectations that the monitors’ arrival would have an appreciable effect in stopping the violence.

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“It’s a complete waste of time, since the agreement has already been watered down by the regime,” said Michael Weiss, communications director at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based foreign policy think tank. “The escalation in violence we’ve seen in the last 48 hours... was an attempt to clear the decks and destroy the revolution once and for all in advance of this bit of theater.”

He told The Jerusalem Post by phone that “this regime is dead set on killing every man, woman and child who hits the street to protest in favor of toppling the government and instituting democracy.

Anyone who thinks that will change, or that Assad will go quietly or accept some kind of asylum deal, is kidding himself.”

Weiss authored a strategic briefing paper released this week, which argues that despite the hazards of military intervention, the creation of civilian “safe zones” is a prerequisite for avoiding a bloodbath of catastrophic proportions.

“The only way to prevent a Rwanda-style genocide in the country is through military intervention,” he said. “By doing nothing we will be left with a failed state.”

Conservative estimates place the toll from the nine-month uprising at 5,000 killed and 27,000 wounded, but Weiss believes the body count is closer to 8,000. With some 50,000 people missing, he said, that figure could be much higher still.

Syrian authorities said on Thursday that 2,000 soldiers and security force members had been killed since March.

That figure was nearly double the previous number given by Damascus, and follows weeks of escalating attacks by army deserters and gunmen against forces loyal to Assad.

“There are more than 2,000 martyrs among the security forces and army, at a time when some still refuse to be convinced about the presence of terrorists in Syria,” Syria said in a letter to the United Nations published by state news agency SANA.

The letter came in response to assertions by the UN human rights chief that Syria’s crackdown could constitute crimes against humanity.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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