An advisory body to the Arab League called on Sunday for the immediate recall of a team of international monitors sent to assess the situation in Syria, saying that its observers are “inadvertently” assisting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in covering up the violence. Since the 60 observers arrived in Damascus on December 23, human rights groups have reported that dozens have been killed and that tens of thousands have continued to take to the streets.
Eight more people — some in the Damascus suburb of Daria — were reported killed on Sunday, even as the Parliament made its announcement .Reuters quotes local coordination committees who say that, since the monitors arrived, 286 people have been killed.
The Arab Parliament, an advisory body with 88 delegates from each of the League’s member states that was the first to call for freezing Syria’s membership in the League, said that, despite the presence of the monitors, the violence and deaths have continued. Said Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, chairman of the Parliament:
“For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission”
“This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League.”
The Parliament has called on the league’s secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, to call together the foreign ministers of member countries to devise a resolution to withdraw the mission.
But one Arab League official said that it is too early to judge the mission which is remain in Syria for a month, and that more monitors to total 150 in all would be sent soon.
The monitors’ visit has been overshadowed by doubt and accusations that Assad’s regime has agreed to it as simply a way to bide time. The mission’s leader, General Mohammed al-Dabi, who was in charge of a military intelligence branch in Sudan accused of atrocities, had earlier come under fire for his background. His comments that he was “reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centres of unrest” have also aroused controversy. Activists including Ibrahim Aba Zaid of Dara’a have pointed out that the mission relies on state security escorts for its transportation through Syria, a country of 23 million. As Aba Zaid said to Reuters, “‘The team has been escorted with the governor and there is no way for anyone other than security personnel to get anywhere near them.’”
Dabi has since modified his comments about the situation in Homs being “reassuring,” says Reuters. Another monitor in Dara’a said in a YouTube clip posted on Saturday that the monitors had seen snipers “‘with our very own eyes’” and that they would “‘ask the government to remove them immediately.’” Dabi then attempted to undermine the monitor’s comment by telling the BBC that ”This man said that IF he sees, by his eyes, those snipers, he will report them immediately and he will tell the government. But he didn’t see, he said that ‘IF he (sees)’, so it is not correct in the media, what he said.”
Reuters reports that the gap between Dabi’s statements and that of other monitors has ” prompted the Arab League to tell monitors to focus on their ‘technical work’ and avoid public statements.”
Syria’s state news agency, Sana, has countered that wide-scale demonstrations had been held throughout Syria in support of Assad on Friday. Since the uprising began in mid-March in the southern city of Dara’a, the Syrian government has claimed that “armed gangs” of foreign conspirators are responsible for the unrest and that over 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
The United Nations says that over 5,000 have been killed so far. According to Al Jazeera, the local coordinating committee says that, in 2011, there have been “exactly 5,862 martyrs, including 321 male children, 74 female children and 146 women.”
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Photo taken in Cairo in April 2011 by Kodak Agfa