‘Arab League monitors are failing in Syria’

Observers have not ventured out on tours of restive areas since 11 of them were injured by pro-Assad demonstrators in Latakia.

ANWAR MALEK, the Arab League monitor that quit Syria 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
ANWAR MALEK, the Arab League monitor that quit Syria 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Several Arab League monitors have left Syria, or may do so soon, because the mission has failed to halt President Bashar Assad’s violent crackdown, a former monitor said on Thursday.
Observers have not ventured out on tours of restive areas since 11 of them were injured by pro-Assad demonstrators in the port of Latakia on Monday, an attack which also sidelined plans to expand the team. A League official said they would resume work Thursday once new safety measures were in place in agreement with Syrian authorities.
Syrian opposition groups say the monitors, who deployed on December 26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan, have only bought Assad more time to crush protests that erupted in March.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian who quit the monitoring team this week, said many of his former colleagues shared his chagrin, and that a Moroccan legal specialist, an aid worker from Djibouti and an Egyptian had also left the mission.
“There will be other people pulling out... I don’t rule out that some countries will withdraw their members if things continue this way,” he said.
Their 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 serve anything.”
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The government has on several occasions released prisoners in putatives gestures of goodwill, but Malek told Al Jazeera Arabic the moves were little more than theater.
“They abduct people at random from the streets and put them for four or five days in detention until they look terrible, after which they would summon us to watch this play, pretending to be releasing detainees,” he said, adding that opposition figures had told him not a single actual detainee had been released.
The Arab League promptly struck back.
“General Mohammed al- Dabi, the head of the Arab monitors’ mission to Damascus, has confirmed that what the monitor Anwar Malek said to a satellite channel does not relate to the truth in any way,” the bloc said in a statement.
Dabi has come under fire from rights groups over his role in the Darfur conflict.
“Since he was assigned to the Homs team, Malek did not leave the hotel for six days and did not go out with the rest of the team into the field, giving the excuse that he was sick,” the statement said, adding that Malek had asked to travel to Paris for treatment but left suddenly on his personal account.
Malek said the days in which he did not leave his room followed his Facebook posting Friday criticizing the mission, after which he suspended his work.
The League, which will hear a full report from the monitors on January 19, is divided over Syria, with Qatar the regime’s most vocal critic and Algeria defending steps taken by Damascus.
A French journalist, Gilles Jacquier, was among nine people killed in the rebellious city of Homs on Wednesday in what the state news agency SANA said was a mortar attack by “terrorists.”
The opposition Syrian National Council, however, placed blame for his death squarely on the regime. “This killing is indicative of the transition of the Syrian regime from preventing press from freely working and covering the events in Syria to killing journalists and media personnel, in an attempt to silence neutral and independent media sources,” it said in a statement.
On Thursday Syrian expatriates from Europe, North America and the Arab world set off to Syria from Turkey in a protest convoy to draw attention to the plight of people in their strife-torn homeland.
The convoy was not allowed entry to the country.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting in Washington with Algeria’s Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci, stressed “the need to end the Assad government’s assault on its own people.”
Aram Nerguizian, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the Arab League has long displayed contradictory behavior toward Syria.
“Obviously the Sunni monarchies who make up the bulk of the League’s foreign policy clout would like to isolate Iran by crippling its ally Syria,” he told The Jerusalem Post from Washington. “But the reality is also that any precedent that’s set would have real implications for countries that could experience popular unrest” within their own borders, he added.
Nerguizian said he foresees the Syria crisis deteriorating into a long term, bloody conflict.
“There’s no going back to the status quo. But there’s also little chance there will be a scenario in which the regime collapses or there is a smooth transfer of power – these are equally implausible,” he said.
“What are the next steps? There aren’t any good ones,” he said. “I don’t see an opposition that can present a coherent political or military alternative in the short term. That’s one of the reasons this is so challenging.”