Middle East

Syria opposition challenges Arab mission to prove itself

The leader of the main Syrian opposition group has said the Arab League observer mission should either prove itself or leave Syria.

Burhan Ghalioun told the BBC that Western countries should establish a safe area within Syria and enforce a no-fly zone over parts of the country.

At least 24 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, activists reported.

The UN says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests since March.

More than 600 of them have been tortured to death by security forces over the course of the uprising, according to information gathered by international campaigning group Avaaz.

The group urged Arab League monitors to visit the sites where torture has taken place to ensure the government stops the abuse.

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

About 100 Arab League observers have been in Syria since last week to monitor compliance to a peace plan brokered by the League.

Under the plan, military forces are to be withdrawn from cities, peaceful demonstrations permitted, and detained protesters released.

'Telling lies'

The leader of the Syrian National Council said he was worried the Arab League mission was providing political cover for the regime to suppress street protests.

"We only agreed to the Arab League monitoring mission because it was going to expose the regime. We were never relying on it to stop the killing," Mr Ghalioun told the BBC.

"If they could convey just a tiny shred of what's happening, that's more than enough to condemn the regime, to prove they have been telling lies since the beginning."

He added that he hoped the United Nations might take over the League's mission.

Mr Ghalioun also called on western powers to establish a safe area within Syria and a no-fly zone over some of the country's territory. This would not, he said, require bombing on the scale of Libya - he wanted intervention to support the revolution, not replace it.

The BBC's Paul Wood, who interviewed Mr Ghalioun, says Syria is not Libya; it is vastly more complicated, with more combustible neighbours.

Much as the neighbours would like to see President Bashar al-Assad gone, Western governments have very little appetite for a military intervention, he says.

The Syrian government says it is fighting armed gangs.

The uprising has taken on an increasingly violent character in recent months, with army defectors joining the demonstrators and attacking government forces.