January 3, 2012
January 3, 2012
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday the Arab observer mission in Syria needed to be “clarified” and complained that Russia was blocking any U.N. condemnation of the Damascusregime, as the Syrian opposition denied the Arab League reports about withdrawal of troops and military vehicles from the Syrian cities.
“The conditions under which this observer mission is operating should be clarified,” Juppe told French television I-Tele, adding that he was “skeptical” about its progress.
Juppe questioned whether the observers really had free access to information, but said he would await their report, expected in the coming days, adding: “But I do not consider the battle is already lost.”
He also insisted again that the U.N. Security Council “cannot stay silent” on the situation in Syria, and said he regretted that permanent Council memberRussia “continues to block” any condemnation of the regime by the U.N.
The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, denied the reports about withdrawing troops and military vehicles from the Syrian cities, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby said on Monday that Syria’s military had now withdrawn from residential areas and was on the outskirts of the cities, but gunfire continued and snipers were still a threat.
Syrian activists published footage on the social networks showing an Arab observer saying that the Syrian military is still spreading in the cities and that snipers are still on the building roofs.
Meanwhile, Walid al-Benni, head of the central bureau of the Syrian National Council, in an interview with Al Arabiya, urged the importance of increasing the number of Arab observers in Syria so as to be able to have a wider vision of the situation.
As many as 24 people have been killed by the gunfire of Syrian security forces on Monday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
Meanwhile army defectors whose armed insurgency has threatened to overshadow the peaceful popular uprising captured dozens of members of the security forces by seizing two checkpoints on Monday, the opposition said.
Army defectors also clashed with security forces at a third checkpoint, killing and wounding an unspecified number of troops loyal to Assad, opposition activists said, according to Reuters.
Assad is struggling to defeat a popular uprising and avoid becoming the latest leader to be toppled by “Arab Spring” revolutions, after those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
After nearly 10 months of violence in which the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed, mostly unarmed civilians, an Arab League monitoring mission has spent the past week assessing Assad’s compliance with a peace plan.
But al-Araby on Monday defended the monitors in his first remarks since they were deployed in Syriaa week ago, saying the “mission needs more time.”
“There are still snipers and gunfire. There must be a total halt to the gunfire,” Araby said, even as monitors strive to stem the persistent bloodshed, according to AFP.
The issue would be raised with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, he told reporters in Cairo, “because the aim is to stop the shooting and protect civilians.”
But “it is difficult to say who is firing on whom,” Araby added.
The League’s plan calls for Assad to pull troops and tanks from the streets, free detainees and talk to his opponents.
Al-Araby said the monitors had secured the release of 3,484 prisoners and succeeded in getting food supplies into Homs, one of the centers of the violence. “Give the monitoring mission the chance to prove its presence on the ground,” he said.
But many Syrian opposition activists are skeptical that the mission can put real pressure on Assad to halt the violence.
After weeks of stalling, Syria agreed last month to allow the deployment of observers as part of an Arab roadmap calling for the withdrawal of the military from cities and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The mission has been mired in controversy since a first team of 50 observers arrived on Dec. 26, with activists and commentators saying Syrian authorities were keeping the monitors on a short leash and critical of the choice of a former top Sudanese military commander to head the operation.
On Sunday, the Arab Parliament, an advisory body of the 22-member Arab League, intensified the pressure saying the monitors should be immediately withdrawn having failed to halt the government’s crackdown on dissent.
“We are seeing an increase in violence, more people are being killed including children… and all this in the presence of Arab League monitors, which has angered the Arab people,” said the body’s speaker, Salem al-Diqbassi.
He urged Araby to “immediately pull out the Arab observers, considering the continued killing of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime.”
In his response, the League chief said Diqbassi’s comments were an “important statement.”
Arab foreign ministers could meet as early as next week to review a report expected to be submitted later this week by the mission’s chief and to consider Diqbassi’s remarks, Araby said.
But he stressed the League would not back down from the mission and would be sending more observers soon.
“We have 70 observers in six cities who carried out 26 missions (so far). Thirty more monitors will join them within days,” Araby said.
He also revealed Damascus promised to allow foreign journalists into Syria to cover the unrest, “with the exception of three television stations.”
Araby did not identify the networks but an Arab League official told AFP on condition of anonymity they were Al Arabiya, al-Jazeera and France 24.
The head of the observer mission, Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, is due to send his “first report in the next two days” on the situation in Syria, Araby said.
“An Arab foreign minister has asked that a ministerial meeting be convened to discuss the report,” he added.
Kinan Shami, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union activists’ group, said from Damascus that people were taking huge risks by gathering in cities where Arab League monitors were expected, in the hope of talking to them.
“People expected them in Daraya yesterday on New Year’s Day and thousands went to the main square, raised the Independence Flag on a mast and gathered around it. Security forces shot at them and killed two protesters,” Shami told Reuters.
“The people are trying to show the monitors the repression and are risking their lives to meet them because everywhere they go the monitors are surrounded by security… Other than getting arrested and beaten or killed, they could easily face endless counts of treason and communicating with foreign powers.”
But Issam Ishak, a senior member of the main opposition Syrian National Council, said the monitors must be given a chance. “Their presence is helping further erode the fear factor and is encouraging the expansion of the protests.”
The ongoing violence is reinforcing the opposition’s view thatSyria’s limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a ploy by Assad’s regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.
Hiding army vehicles
The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) said in a statement that the regime has been disguising soldiers and army officers in police uniforms and hiding their army vehicles to make it appear they have pulled out in accordance with the Arab League plan, according to The Associated Press.
While most of the violence reported early in the uprising involved Syrian forces firing on unarmed protesters, there are now more frequent armed clashes between military defectors and security forces. The increasing militarization of the conflict has raised fears the country is sliding toward civil war.
One video posted Monday showed graphic images of blindfolded and bound corpses.
“The blood is still warm,” a voice says in the video, which apparently was shot in Idlib province.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed that tanks have not been seen in Syrian cities since Thursday. But he said residents reported that the weapons were still a threat.
“They can bring the tanks back and use them to fight,” Abdul-Rahman told AP. He said the Arab League should not necessarily see the withdrawal as a concession; instead, they should insist the tanks stay away for good.
The opposition also has complained that the presence of suspected regime agents with the observers has discouraged Syrians from approaching them.
Despite the ongoing violence, the presence of the monitors has provided rare outside witnesses to the carnage in Syria and invigorated a protest movement that has faced a relentless military onslaught for months.
On Friday, which is the start of the weekend in the Arab world and the main day for protests, hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets calling for Assad’s downfall in the largest demonstrations in months.
The government has long contended that the turmoil inSyria this year is not an uprising by reform-seekers but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs — a contention most international observers dismiss as an attempt by an autocratic regime to terrify its citizens into abandoning the revolt.
By AL ARABIYA WITH AGENCIES