Deadly violence raged in Syria on Thursday as a month-long mandate for Arab
peace monitors in the country reached its last day.
mandate expired on Thursday night, with Arab foreign ministers due to weigh
their next move at meetings in Cairo on Sunday. The ministers are at odds over
how to respond to the turmoil in which thousands of people have been
'Syrian tanks pull back from rebel town'
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader: Isolate Assad
An Arab League source said this week Syria might let the monitors
stay on, but without any broadening of their mandate.
“They are in a big
mess,” a source close to the Cairobased League said. “They are running out of
Fourteen people were killed on Thursday according to news
reports, adding to a death toll of more than 600 since the monitors arrived in
Syria, where an insurgency is hardening what began as a mostly peaceful struggle
against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule.
In one encircled
resort town, however, calm prevailed.
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Residents of Zabadani said troops
and tanks that had besieged the town had pulled back after a deal to end days of
fighting, according to an opposition leader.
Dozens of armored vehicles
that had encircled Zabadani, a hill resort near the Lebanese border, withdrew to
garrisons 8 kilometers away, he said.
Meanwhile, the leader of Syria’s
Muslim Brotherhood said world powers should pile diplomatic pressure on Assad
and set up a no-fly zone and “safe zones” to help the opposition.
international community should take the right position... They should fully
isolate this regime, pull out their ambassadors and expel the regime’s
ambassadors,” Muhammad Shaqfa told Reuters.
Assad says Syria is facing a
foreign conspiracy that is using Islamist terrorists to destroy a bastion of
“The country is capable of overcoming the current
conditions and building a strong Syria,” he told a delegation calling itself the
Arab People’s Initiative for Fighting Foreign Intervention in Syria, the state
news agency SANA reported.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said 454 civilians had been killed since the Arab observers deployed on
December 26 to verify whether an Arab peace plan was working.
It said 146
members of the security forces, including 27 who deserted to the opposition, had
also been killed.
The British-based Observatory reported at least 12 more
civilian deaths across Syria on Thursday.
Asked if the Arab monitors had
made a difference, Rami Abdul-Rahman, the name used by the Observatory’s
director, said: “Yes, in the first week, the number of deaths fell sharply.
After that, no, the numbers rose.”
Syrian Kurdish groups opposed to Assad
said they would try to unite this month to explain their autonomy demands to
Arab groups trying to topple the Syrian president, activists said.
security forces have clashed daily with protesters and insurgents demanding
Assad’s downfall in mainly Sunni Arab towns, Syrian Kurdish areas have remained
relatively calm, despite many Kurds’ long-standing opposition to the
Syrian-Kurdish exile leaders say they do not trust the Arab
opposition to heed their demands for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish northeast
of the country.
Kurdish groups representing Syria’s largest ethnic
minority are also divided among themselves, with some factions backed by Iraqi
Kurds, and another by Turkish Kurd rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party,
independent analysts said.
“There will be a national conference of all
the Kurdish parties to form one front,” said a leading member of the Democratic
Union Kurdish Party of Syria, one of the oldest Kurdish opposition groups. “The
aim of the conference is to press the demands of the Kurds in Syria and to open
a dialogue with the Arab opposition.”
The United Nations said on December
13 that security forces killed more than 5,000 people in Syria since March.
Assad’s foes say the Arab monitoring mission has only given Assad diplomatic
cover to pursue a violent crackdown.
Some Arab countries, led by Qatar,
which heads the League’s committee on Syria, say the mission has
Qatar has even proposed sending in Arab troops, an idea opposed
by Damascus and not endorsed by any other country in the 22- member
On Wednesday, Sudan played down criticism of the monitoring
mission, saying the performance of the team led by a Sudanese general was
improving and it should get more support.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali
Ahmed Karti said the monitoring mission had been doing well, despite starting
with a limited number of observers.
“Day by day, they are achieving more
and more,” he told Reuters, dismissing critics’ assertions that the observers
have only provided Assad with diplomatic cover and more time to crush his
“You know they began with a limited number of monitors, and
gradually they began to expand throughout the areas where there are some
problems, and they are doing fine.”
The appointment of Sudanese Gen.
Muhammad al-Dabi to lead the monitoring team has alarmed human rights activists,
who say the government committed atrocities in Sudan’s conflict- torn Darfur
region on the general’s watch.
The unrest, combined with Western
sanctions, has driven the value of the Syrian pound down by 50 percent on the
black market, exchange dealers said. In recent days it traded unofficially at 70
pounds to the US dollar. The official rate has fallen 23% to 57.8 pounds since
EU governments are expected on Monday to expand the list of people
and Syrian companies and institutions targeted by EU sanctions, diplomats said
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