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Syrian activists slam Arab League

A Syrian woman, left, speaks with an Arab league observer. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

By Reuters | 10 Jan 2012 

BEIRUT: Arab League monitors are only giving Syrian authorities more time to crack down on opponents, opposition figures said Monday after the League opted to keep the mission in place despite Syria's failure to comply fully with an Arab peace plan.

The observers, whose mission began two weeks ago, have so far failed to stop a violent crackdown on protests against President Bashar Assad in which the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the past 10 months.

After a meeting in Cairo to review progress, the Arab League said the government had only partly implemented a pledge to stop the repression, free detainees and withdraw troops from cities.

It said it would add more monitors to the 165-strong team, ignoring calls to pull the plug on what critics say is a futile effort that provides a fig leaf for Assad to suppress opponents.

"The initial report is too vague, and it essentially buys the regime more time," said Rima Fleihan, a member of the Syrian National Council, a leading opposition group in exile. "We need to know what the League will do if the regime continues its crackdown in the presence of the monitors. At one point it needs to refer Syria to the UN Security Council."

The Arab League appears divided over whether to take such a step, which in the case of Libya led to foreign military intervention that helped rebels topple Muammar Qaddafi.

Russia and China have opposed any Security Council move on Syria, while Western powers hostile to Assad have so far shown little appetite for Libya-style intervention in a country that sits in a far more combustible area of the Middle East.

"Continuing the mission of the observers in Syria, unless it is in great numbers, will give the regime more time to deal with the Syrian revolution," said Rami Abdulrahman, of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said the Syrian authorities had hidden tanks in military and security compounds or repainted armored vehicles in blue police colors. Only a small number of the many thousands of detainees had been freed and the League monitors had failed to contact many activists who were ready to brief them, he added.

Syrian officials say they are fighting "terrorism" by subversives armed from abroad, not a popular broad-based revolt against more than four decades of Assad family rule. The authorities say their foes have killed 2,000 security force members.

Arab League officials said the future of the monitoring mission, due to make a full report on Jan. 19, depended on the Syrian government's commitment to ending the daily bloodshed.

"If the ... report comes out saying the violence has not stopped, the Arab League will have a responsibility to act on that," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani told a news conference after the Cairo meeting.

He did not outline any next step by the League, which suspended Syria in November for failing to comply with an agreed peace plan. The 22-member body also announced sanctions, but these do not appear to have been fully implemented.

The Arab plan called for tolerance of peaceful protests, a political dialogue and free access for foreign media.



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