Doubt hangs over Arab monitoring mission in Syria

Disillusioned Arab monitor says others have also quit; Arab League split over troubled monitoring mission.

Arab League monitors in Syria 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters Tv/Handout)
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.
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.
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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.
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."
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.
The 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.
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the monitoring mission cannot continue indefinitely.
The 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.
"I 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.