Amid reports that at least 27 people have been killed in protests in Homs and in Idlib, Arab League foreign ministers are meeting on Sunday to discuss whether the government of President Bashar al-Assad is honoring its pledge to end the brutal crackdown, or not. They will also consider the findings so far of the mission of 67 monitors which has been heavily criticized by activists, who say the government is using the monitors’ presence as “political cover” and are calling for mass protests on Sunday. Indeed, the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said that the attacks are a “‘continuation of the regime’s dirty game as it tries to divert attention from massive protests.’”
On Friday, a bomb — the second in the space of two weeks — had gone off in the capital of Damascus, killing 26; Saturday saw thousands attending a government-organized funeral ceremony. Activists are accusing the government of staging the attack; the government has said it will “strike back with an iron fist” against those responsible for the bombing. The funerals were held in the district of Midan, which has been a hotbed of protests in Damascus. Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar has blamed the attack on a suicide bomber form al-Qaeda. Mourners carried pictures of Assad and Syrian flags while chanting pro-regime slogans such as “The people want Bashar al-Assad!” and “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!”.
Mission Leader Attracts Criticism
Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi, the leader of the Arab League mission, has said that it is seeing “enough” cooperation by the regime. Dabi, who was formerly the head of Sudanese military intelligence in Darfur, has been under heavy criticism since the start of the mission. His comments after visiting the city of Homs, an epicenter of the protests, that “‘some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening’” have only added to the outcry against him.
Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary-general of the Arab League, has pointed out that the mission has led to the release of prisoners and gotten tanks off the streets, while admitting that snipers have still been firing on protesters.
Activists Accuse Syrian Regime of Deceiving Monitors
The opposition Local Coordination Committees say that at least 390 people have been killed since the mission began. The names of 15,000 people in detention have reportedly been handed to Dabi, the Guardian says. Activists contend that Assad’s supporters have been deceiving the mission by “hiding prisoners in military facilities, falsifying routes and staging events for the monitors’s benefit,” as well as having soldiers drive repainted military vehicles and wear police uniforms.
According to Al Jazeera, Qatar, which heads the Arab League, has said that Syria has not been carrying out the terms of the Arab League’s peace plan it agreed to and that the mission cannot stay in Syria to “waste time.” Qatar is requesting that the monitors be reinforced with staff and human rights experts from the United Nations, says the Guardian:
Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister — and a hate figure for Damascus — said on Friday that “some mistakes” had been made. “If the killing does not stop immediately, I think having observers or not having them would be the same, and this even makes us part of what is taking place in Syria, and we don’t want to be part of that,” he told al-Jazeera TV. Syrian opposition groups have also warned that the monitors must improve their performance or withdraw and have the issue referred to the UN – the outcome of “internationalisation” that is most feared by Damascus.
The United Nations has said that over 5,000 people, including hundreds of children, have been killed in Syria’s uprising which has been going on for ten months. The exact numbers of those killed are difficult to ascertain precisely as Syria does not allow foreign journalists to report from within the country.
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Photo of a Free Syria Protest in Sacramento, CA, in December 2011 by Robert Couse-Baker