Arab monitors to stay in Syria

Observers will remain to monitor the government’s compliance with an Arab League peace plan despite Quatar PM's criticism.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
January 6, 2012 05:45
4 minute read.
Arab League monitors in Syria inspect  damages

Arab League monitors in Syria inspect 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Observers will remain in Syria to monitor the government’s compliance with an Arab League peace plan, Arab government sources said Thursday, despite criticism from Qatar’s prime minister they had made “mistakes.”

Damascus, keen to show it is respecting a peace accord, said it had released a further 552 people detained during the revolt against President Bashar Assad “whose hands were not stained with blood.”

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The team of monitors arrived in Syria last week to verify whether the government was implementing the agreement to scale back its military presence in cities and free thousands of prisoners detained since the uprising last March.

The League’s special committee on Syria is due to meet in Egypt on Sunday to debate the initial findings of the mission, which has been criticized by Syrian activists who question its ability to assess the violence on the ground.

The activists said the teams did not have enough access and were escorted by Syrian authorities, who were manipulating them and hiding prisoners in military facilities.

James H. Anderson, an expert at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, said that since the monitors’ arrival in Syria, the bloodshed only appears to have increased.



“The Arab League, by its own admission, doesn’t have the experience or the numbers for a thorough monitoring mission,” he told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Germany. Anderson said the 150 or so observers now in Syria represent a relatively tiny delegation by international standards. He noted that the UN observer mission to Kosovo in the late 1990s numbered several thousand, and were responsible for monitoring a much smaller geographical area.

On Thursday, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani conceded the monitors had made “mistakes” in conducting their mission.

“I said we must evaluate the types of mistakes it made and without a shadow of a doubt I see mistakes, even though we went in to observe, not to stop the violence,” he told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York. Qatar is the current holder of the rotating Arab League presidency, and was a key force in organizing the observer delegation to Syria.

Meanwhile, opposition activists insists authorities are violating their promise to withdraw troops from the streets of strifetorn towns, contradicting statements by monitors that government forces have pulled back. League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in Cairo on Monday that the monitors had reported back that state forces had withdrawn from residential areas.

“We are not seeing the release of detainees or the true removal of a military presence from the streets,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Army tanks have been replaced with police armored personnel carriers that still have the capability to shoot heavy weaponry.”

Videos uploaded by activists on the Internet showed armored vehicles hidden behind high dirt barriers.

“Nabil Elaraby, you are in Cairo and we’re in Baba Amr. Here are the tanks and there are your monitors,” said one activist in a video uploaded on the Internet.

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On Wednesday, Damascus rejected accusations from the United States that it was failing to live up to its agreement with the Arab League.

“Such a statement is offensive to the Arab League... because it is a blatant interference in the core of its work, the sovereignty of its states and an unjustified attempt to internationalize [the crisis],” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé called Syrian repression “savage” and talked of the possibility of UN action.

“The Arab League has the merit of having taken the initiative, but Arab League observers cannot allow themselves to be manipulated by the regime as the regime is trying to do,” he said in Lisbon. “We hope the Arab League has clear objectives and if these objectives are not met we will work with the Security Council so it pronounces itself about the Syrian situation.”

The Washington Times reported this week that Iran had tried to broker a deal between Syria’s government and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood that would see the Islamist group express its support for Assad in exchange for four high-ranking positions in the government.

The head of the Brotherhood in Syria – who also sits on the opposition Syrian National Council executive – told the paper that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had sent emissaries to Istanbul in October to try to reach a deal, but the Islamist movement had refused to meet them.

“There is no way we can meet with the Iranians when they are assisting in the killing of our people,” Mohammed Farouk Tayfour said. Tayfour reiterated charges that Tehran is supplying Damascus with snipers and Hezbollah operatives to aid in the crackdown, estimated to have killed at least 6,000 people since March.

Anderson said that if true, the Iranian bid reveals the value the Islamic Republic places on its decades-long alliance with Syria.

“Assad’s downfall would have very significant consequences for Tehran, including the fact that its main pipeline to supply Hezbollah in Lebanon would be compromised,” he said. “There has been documentation of Iranians providing security personnel and snipers to assist Assad. So this report is consistent with the importance Iran ascribes to keeping Assad in power.”

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