Dispute among Arab League observers over Syria snipers

Footage posted online appears to show an observer voicing concerns

Arab League observers in Syria have given apparently conflicting accounts of an incident said to have involved snipers in the restive city of Deraa.

Footage posted online appears to show one official saying he had seen government snipers on rooftops and calling for them to be withdrawn.

However in a BBC interview, the chief of the Arab League mission later denied that the official had seen the snipers.

Violence in Syria has continued unabated despite the monitors' mission.

The latest footage posted on the internet cannot be verified, but it shows what appears to be an Arab League observer complaining about snipers shooting at demonstrators in Deraa.

The man is filmed telling protesters: "You're telling me there are snipers? You don't have to tell me, I saw them with my own eyes."

He says the observers' concerns would be conveyed to the Arab League, and that if the snipers were not removed within 24 hours, action would be taken.

Syria deaths

  • More than 5,000 civilians have been killed, says the UN
  • UN denied access to Syria
  • Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrian nationals who have fled
  • The death toll is compiled as a list of names which the UN cross-references
  • Vast majority of casualties were unarmed, but the figure may include armed defectors
  • Tally does not include serving members of the security forces

Source: UN's OHCHR

In a separate report, the German news agency DPA also quoted a source close to the mission saying observers had also seen snipers in Douma, a suburb of the capital Damascus.

However the head of the Arab League mission, Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, later contradicted these accounts. He told the BBC's Newshour programme that the official seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark.

"This man said that if he saw - by his own eyes - those snipers he will report immediately," Gen Dabi said. "But he didn't see [snipers]."

Correspondents say the statement will add to protesters' allegations that Gen Dabi - who is Sudanese - is biased towards the Syrian government.

After a visit to the restive northern city of Homs on Thursday, he told Reuters news agency that "some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening".

Gen Dabi has held a number of senior Sudanese military and government posts, including in the troubled Darfur region.

Frustration

Despite the comments reportedly made by the monitor in Deraa in the video, he is berated by protesters for not doing enough.

The BBC's Jon Donnison in Beirut says that with the Arab League mission now in its fifth day, many demonstrators are becoming frustrated at the league's inability to stop the violence.

About 60 monitors from the Arab League are in Syria to verify the implementation of a peace plan, which demands an end to all violence, the withdrawal of troops from the streets and the release of political prisoners.

Although some tanks have reportedly pulled back, snipers have been visible during demonstrations and rallies.

According to the Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of anti-government groups inside Syria, nine people were killed by security forces in a number of incidents around the country on Saturday.

At least 35 people were killed on Friday, activists say, as security forces opened fire to stop protesters holding rallies in flashpoint cities like Hama, Deraa and Homs, all of whom were being visited by monitors.

Opposition agreement

The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March. The government says 2,000 security forces personnel have died.

Activists estimate that more than 150 people have been killed since monitors arrived in the country on Monday.

Casualty figures and other information are hard to verify as most foreign media are barred from reporting freely in Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups have signed a draft agreement which charts a democratic transition should President Bashar al-Assad fall.

Analysts say the move is a serious attempt by a fractured opposition to unite against the Syrian authorities.

Representatives from the two main opposition groups, the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), say the draft agreement was signed in Cairo on Friday night.

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