Observers Visit Syria, Death Toll Rises
Despite the presence of an international team of 60 Arab League monitors, Syrian security forces shot 25 people dead on Thursday. Human rights activists said the death toll for today could be as high as 40 and that attacks by the government on protesters have increased since the monitors arrived at the start of the week.
Furthermore, says the New York Times, there have been “aggressive attempts by the security forces to trick the observers, by dressing soldiers in the uniforms of policemen and other subterfuges.” Indeed, Syrian security forces “posing as” Arab League observers fired on crowds in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Thursday morning. Protesters had gathered to meet what they thought was a delegation of observers disembarking from a group of buses and were instead confronted by security forces.
Deaths were also reported in the northern city of Idlib and in the central city of Hama, which Arab League observers also visited.
Sana, the Syrian state news agency, reported that a military engineer and a chief warrant officer were killed in the restive city of Homs on Thursday, and that a Brigadier general was wounded.
Doubts About Credibility of Arab League Observer Mission
Al Jazeera quotes an activist in Hama,Hadi Abdullah, who said that monitors had seen the violence against protesters and security forces shooting at them, but doubted that they would report it. Activists in the southern city of Dara’a, where the uprising began in mid-March, said that Arab League monitors only met with the city’s governors, and that there was no sign of troops withdrawing.
The Arab League observers are charged with monitoring President Bashar al-Assad’s promise to release political prisoners and withdraw troops. Activists have asserted throughout that the mission’s credibility is a “farce” and simply a way for President Bashar al-Assad to bide time; they say that the mission is, says Al Jazeera, ”only coordinating its work with the authorities and complain that security escorts, from the very forces that have sought to crush the protests, mean many activists dare not approach the monitors.” Activists are doubtful that the monitors are being granted sufficient access to give a full assessment of the situation in Syria.
A prominent Paris-based Syrian dissident, Haytham Manna, called on the head of the Arab League mission, Sudanese Lt. Gen. Muhammed al-Dabi, to step down or be replaced. An Arab League official in Cairo says that al-Dabi has the “support of all members.” But, while supportive of the observers themselves, activists have been critical of al-Dabi, noting that his background — he was formerly in charge of a military intelligence branch in Sudan accused of atrocities– makes him a questionable choice. Al-Dabi also served as a senior official in the “oppressive regime” of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who, says Al Jazeera, is currently under an international arrest warrant on charges of committing genocide in Darfur. Amnesty International has said that placing al-Dabi at the head of the observer mission “risks undermining the League’s efforts so far and seriously calls into question the mission’s credibility.”
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