Arab League monitors to report on Syria as mandate ends

Arab League monitors in Damascus (9 January 2012) There is no suggestion from the Syrian government side that the observer mission should be ended

The mandate of the Arab League observer mission in Syria is due to expire, a month after it arrived to verify the implementation of a peace initiative.

The head of the mission is finalising a report on the ongoing violence, which will be discussed at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Saturday.

Syrian's government is reportedly keen for the monitors to stay, but the opposition wants the UN to intervene.

Meanwhile, four activists are said to have been killed in Idlib province.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a car in which they were travelling was ambushed by security forces in the Jabal al-Zawiya area. They had been trying to evade capture, it added.

Another activist group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said 25 people had been killed nationwide, including seven in Idlib province, six in the central city of Hama and four in nearby Homs.

A military intelligence brigadier, Adel Mustafa, also was killed by soldiers who had defected and refused his orders to shoot at civilians in the Bab Qibli area of Hama, according to the LCC.

Meanwhile, a senior opposition leader in contact with residents in the town of Zabadani said dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles had pulled back, two days after the army allegedly agreed a ceasefire with rebels.

An online video purportedly showing a tank firing a shell in the Syrian city of Homs (18 January 2012) Critics say the observer mission has failed to halt the government crackdown on dissent

Kamal al-Labwani told the Reuters news agency that food and basic supplies had also started reaching the town, 30km (20 miles) north-west of Damascus and close to the border with Lebanon.

Extension

The Arab League's 165 observers are widely perceived to have failed to halt the crackdown on dissent by President Bashar al-Assad's government since they arrived in December.

The UN Security Council was told earlier this month that 400 people had been killed during the monitors' first 10 days in the country. The UN had previously said that more than 5,000 had died since March.

A former member of the observer mission told the BBC on Thursday that the Arab League "worked for the Assad system and not to prevent the massacre of civilians".

"I witnessed crimes against humanity, and I was really shocked. I have seen houses destroyed, the bodies of murdered women and children, and families have a lack of food. I have seen bodies with marks of torture," Anwar Malek said.

Although the initial mandate of the observer mission comes to an end on Thursday, the agreement covering it provides for an extension for a second month if both sides agree.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says there is no suggestion from the Syrian government side that it should be ended.

So the decision is up to the Arab League foreign ministers, who will meet in Cairo on Saturday and Sunday, our correspondent adds.

They will be considering a report from the head of the observer mission, Sudanese Gen Mohammed al-Dabi - a controversial figure who has been accused of carrying out human rights violations in his own country - which will draw conclusions on its findings since it began work on the ground.

Syria deaths

  • More than 5,000 civilians killed since March, says the UN
  • More than 400 killed since start of Arab League mission on 26 December
  • UN denied access to Syria
  • Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrians who have fled
  • 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

Mr Malek, who resigned earlier this month, said any report prepared by the observers would not be a full picture of events on the ground.

"I've seen reports before and they don't write things correctly," he added. "This is not the truth, especially about massacres and children's deaths. There's not trace of them in the reports."

The head of the Arab League's Cairo operations room, Adnan al-Khudeir, said the monitors would remain in 17 difference places around Syria until a decision was made about whether to extend their mission.

"If there is a decision to extend the mission of the observers, we are ready to send more monitors after training them in three days,'' he told the Associated Press.

The Arab League ministers may also discuss informally a proposal from the emir of Qatar for Arab troops to be sent to Syria "to stop the killing", an idea the Syrian government has angrily rejected.

Our correspondent says the Arab League is divided, and it is unlikely that there will be much support for such a move at this stage.

'Security improved'

The UN Security Council is also divided.

On Wednesday, Russia's foreign minister said it would block any attempt by the West to secure a resolution supporting sanctions against Syria or make any move that might lead to military intervention.

Children protest on the streets of Zabadani (17 January 2012) A ceasefire has allegedly been agreed between the army and rebel fighters in Zabadani

"If some intend to use force at all cost... we can hardly prevent that from happening,'' Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

"But let them do it at their own initiative on their own conscience. They won't get any authorisation from the UN Security Council.''

China meanwhile defended the observer mission, saying "the security situation of major areas has improved" and expressing support for "the settlement of the Syrian issue within the framework of the Arab League".

But the European Union is preparing to tighten its own measures against Syria on Monday, by imposing restrictions on more prominent Syrian individuals and companies associated with the government.

The UK will "lead the way" in tightening sanctions, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised. He Iran and its allies in Lebanon's Hezbollah movement of helping the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, Syria's oil minister has announced that the country has lost more than $2bn (£1.29bn) in revenues since 1 September as a result of sanctions imposed on oil exports by the US and EU.

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