Armed rebels captured dozens of members of the Syrian security forces by seizing
two military checkpoints on Monday, opposition figures said, as the Arab League
chief reported cautious progress in a peace monitoring mission.
opposition said army deserters also clashed with security forces at a third
checkpoint, killing and wounding an unspecified number of troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Arab body says monitors should quit Syria promptly
Syrian opposition outlines post-Assad democracy
On Monday the Arab League said the government had
withdrawn its tanks from Syria’s cities, a key demand the Arab bloc had posed on
the beleaguered Assad regime.
The statement could not be independently
confirmed, and followed two days of conflicting reports over whether its
monitors were having any impact at all in stemming the violence. On Sunday an
Arab League advisory body called for the immediate withdrawal of monitors,
saying they were allowing Damascus to cover up continuing violence and
Also Monday, a regimelinked Syrian news site reported Assad would
deliver a speech over the coming days announcing plans to form a new government
including opposition members. The report, carried on the Arabic website Damas
Post, could not be confirmed.
After nearly 10 months of violence in which
the UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed, an Arab monitoring mission
has spent the past week assessing Assad’s compliance with a peace
In partially upbeat comments, Arab League Secretary- General Nabil
Elaraby said Syria’s military had withdrawn from residential areas and was on
the outskirts of the country’s cities, but gunfire continued and snipers were
still a threat. The Arab League plan calls for Assad to withdraw troops and
tanks from the streets, release detainees and talk to his opponents.
latest telephone report said there is gunfire from different places, which makes
it hard to say who is shooting who,” Elaraby said. “Gunfire should be stopped
and there are snipers... We call upon the Syrian government to fully commit to
what it promised.”
Elaraby said the monitors had achieved the release of
3,484 prisoners and succeeded in getting food supplies into Homs, one of the
centers of the violence.
“Give the monitoring mission the chance to prove
its presence on the ground,” he said.
But many Syrian opposition
activists are skeptical the mission can put real pressure on Assad to halt the
The reported attacks on military checkpoints came three days
after the anti-government Free Syrian Army said it had ordered its fighters to
stop offensive operations pending a meeting with the Arab League
Rami Abdelrahman, director of the opposition Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, said Monday’s operation took place in the northern
province of Idlib. It was not immediately clear how many people had been killed
or captured by the rebels.
Separately, the Observatory said two people
were killed by gunfire in Homs on Monday, and the bodies of another two were
handed over to their families.
Security forces killed a farmer in Douma,
on the northeastern edge of Damascus, as they carried out raids searching for
suspects wanted by authorities, it said.
Kinan Shami, a member of the
Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union activists group, said from Damascus that
people were taking huge risks by gathering in cities where Arab League monitors
were expected, in the hope of talking to them.
“People expected them in
Daraya yesterday on New Year’s Day and thousands went to the main square, raised
the Independence Flag on a mast and gathered around it. Security forces shot at
them and killed two protesters,” Shami said.
“The people are trying to
show the monitors the repression and are risking their lives to meet them
because everywhere they go the monitors are surrounded by security,” he said.
“Other than getting arrested and beaten or killed, they could easily face
endless counts of treason and communicating with foreign powers.”
Issam Ishak, a high-level member of the main opposition Syrian National Council,
said the monitors must be given a chance.
“Their presence is helping
further erode the fear factor and is encouraging the expansion of the
Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-based Syrian dissident who maintains the
blog Syrian Revolution Digest, wrote Sunday, “Many tears were shed throughout
Syria in 2011, and 2012 will not be any different, except that some of them
might end up being tears of joy as our battle against tyranny succeeds in making
one major stride forward by toppling the Assad regime.”