'Monitors only 'buying time' for Assad's crackdown'

Syrian journalist to 'Post': Arab League has shown no interest in helping anti-government protesters.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
January 9, 2012 20:49
4 minute read.
Arab League monitors in Syria inspect  damages

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

 
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Arab League monitors are only giving Syrian authorities more time to crack down on opponents, opposition figures said Monday after the League opted to keep the mission in place despite Syria’s failure to comply fully with an Arab peace plan.

After a meeting in Cairo to review progress, the Arab League said the government had only partly implemented a pledge to stop the repression, free detainees and withdraw troops from cities. It said it would add more monitors to the 165-strong team, ignoring calls to pull the plug on what critics say is a futile effort that provides a fig leaf for Assad to suppress opponents.

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“I never expected anything good from the Arab League, so it’s not a real disappointment,” a US-based Syrian journalist told The Jerusalem Post. “Anyone watching the League’s actions over the past 10 months knows it’s not interested in helping Syria, but only in appearing to be carrying out its responsibilities.

“All Arab countries are dictatorships – who are we kidding?” he said.

“Why would they want a neighboring dictatorship to be toppled? It would spread like wildfire... These dictators are threatened by the Arab Spring. They don’t want this to reach their countries.”

Rima Fleihan, a member of the Syrian National Council, a leading opposition group in exile, said the initial Arab League report “is too vague, and it essentially buys the regime more time.”



“We need to know what the League will do if the regime continues its crackdown in the presence of the monitors. At one point it needs to refer Syria to the UN Security Council,” she said.

The observers, whose mission began two weeks ago, have failed to stop a crackdown on protests against President Bashar Assad in which the UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed in 10 months.

The Arab League appears reluctant to defer the matter to the UN Security Council, which in the case of Libya led to foreign military intervention that helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.


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Russia and China have opposed any Security Council move on Syria, while Western powers hostile to Assad have so far shown little appetite for Libya-style intervention in a country that sits in a far more combustible area of the Middle East.

“The costs and risks are too high,” Aram Nerguizian, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Post. “The risks of unintended consequences to neighboring states like Israel, Jordan and Lebanon are critical – the parallel with Libya just doesn’t stand.”

Nonetheless, Syrian opposition factions are increasingly calling for foreign intervention. On Monday details emerged that a deal between the two main opposition factions had collapsed, apparently signaling that voices calling for intervention to topple Assad have gained the upper hand over those rejecting it.

Ten days ago Burhan Ghalioun, head of the mostly exiled Syrian National Council (SNC), signed an accord with the mainly Syrian-based National Coordination Body (NCB) outlining a transition to a democratic post-Assad Syria.

The agreement rejected “any military intervention that harms the sovereignty or stability of the country,” while leaving the door open for an Arab role to stop Assad’s crackdown.

But members of Ghalioun’s own council denounced the deal, forcing him to disavow it. Many grassroots protesters inside Syria also rejected it, saying they had lost hope that 10 months of peaceful demonstrations – now accompanied by an armed insurgency in some regions – would bring down Assad.

“The paper has been canceled after pressure from members of the council. Some threatened to resign,” SNC member Khaled Kamal said.

“Ghalioun signed it without the knowledge of council members, so after consultation he withdrew his signature.”

Kamal said many SNC members had originally shared the NCB’s rejection of an intervention such as a no-fly zone or buffer zone to protect civilians. “But now all roads are blocked and the political solution did not work,” he said.

“After 10 months and after we knocked on all doors... foreign intervention is the only choice before us,” he said, adding that the SNC would begin a campaign to get recognition as the only opposition group representing the mass demonstrations.

Opposition leaders meeting in Istanbul on Monday reinstalled Ghalioun as head of the SNC.

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