Arab League monitors in Syria 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters Tv/Handout)
BEIRUT - Several Arab League monitors have left Syria or may do so soon because the mission has failed to halt Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown on a popular revolt against his rule, an Algerian former monitor said on Thursday.
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Syrian opposition groups say the monitors, who deployed on Dec. 26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan, have only bought Assad more time to crush protests that erupted in March, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian who quit the monitoring team this week, said many of his former colleagues shared his chagrin.
"I cannot specify a number, but many. When you talk to them their anger
is clear," he told Reuters by telephone, adding that many could not
leave because of orders from their governments.
He said a Moroccan legal specialist, an aid worker from Djibouti and an Egyptian had also left the mission.
departures could not immediately be confirmed, but another monitor, who
asked not to be named, told Reuters he planned to leave Syria on
Friday. "The mission does not serve the citizens," he said. "It doesn't
The Arab League, which will hear a full report
from the monitors on Jan. 19, is divided over Syria, with Qatar its most
vocal critic and Algeria defending steps taken by Damascus.
mission, the first of its kind the League has mounted, is led by
Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, who has come under fire from rights
groups over his role in the Darfur conflict.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the monitoring mission cannot continue indefinitely.
conflict in Syria, in which insurgents have joined what began as a
mostly peaceful movement to end 41 years of Assad family rule, has
killed more than 5,000 people, by a UN tally. The government says 2,000
soldiers and police have been killed.'We were giving cover for repugnant actions'
Malek's withering public criticism dealt a further blow to a mission that the Syrian authorities had long resisted.
resigned from the monitoring mission when it reached a dead end and I
became certain that I was serving the Syrian regime, (which) was
exploiting us for propaganda," he said.
Malek, who is now in Qatar, said violence by security forces had
continued unabated during his stay in Homs. "We were giving them cover
to carry out the most repugnant actions, worse than was taking place
before the monitors came," he said.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the
Arab League committee on Syria, said doubts were growing about the
effectiveness of the monitors.
"I could not see up until now a successful mission, frankly speaking,"
he told a joint news conference with Clinton in Washington. "We hope we
solve it, as we say, in the house of the Arabs, but right now the Syrian
government is not helping us."
However, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said Assad's
government had taken some actions to defuse the crisis, citing a
withdrawal of heavy weapons from cities, the release of a few thousand
prisoners and an opening up of the media.
He acknowledged that all of these were incomplete responses to the terms
of the Arab peace plan, but said it was the taking up of arms by the
opposition that threatened wider violence.
"The feeling is that the government of Syria is in the process of making
more of an effort, but the Arab League is especially having problems
with the armed opposition," he said.
Any admission that the monitoring mission has failed will pile pressure
on the Arab League to refer Syria to the UN Security Council, although a
Western diplomat there said Algeria, Iraq and Egypt were likely to
oppose such a step.
Western powers say Russia, a long-standing ally of Damascus, has blocked
any tough moves by the council against Damascus and only a direct
appeal by the league could shift Moscow's view.