Observer mission in Syria begins to unravel, pushing forward UN option

As the Arab League observer mission in Syria teeters amid accusations from members it is a farce, pressure may build for Syria to be referred to the UN Security Council.

By , Staff writer

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    This image made from amateur video and made available by Shaam News Network Wednesday, Jan. 11, purports to show graffiti on an Arab League observer vehicle reading, "leave," as people demonstrate while observers visit al-Hasaka, Syria.
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One member of the Arab League's observer mission in Syria has quit and another is threatening to leave, calling the mission a "farce" and saying their presence in the country made little difference. Their criticism echoes what Syrian anti-Assad activists and much of the international community have been saying from the outset – that the mission had no power and would only be used by the Assad regime as a cover-up.

The mission was created to verify that Syria is complying with an Arab League agreement to end its violent crackdown on the opposition movement, pull the Army out of city streets, and release political prisoners. The first group of observers arrived in Syria on Dec. 26 and their numbers have gradually increased since then, now numbering 165.

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Qatar's prime minister, head of the Arab League's committee on Syria, said in a news conference in Washington Wednesday that doubts about the "effectiveness" of the monitors are growing, Reuters reports. "I could not see up until now a successful mission, frankly speaking," he said. "We hope we will solve it, as we say, in the house of the Arabs, but right now the Syrian government is not helping us."

If the league admits that the mission has failed, it will be under immense pressure to refer Syria to the UN Security Council, although some members strongly oppose that action and may try to block it. Russia has also opposed UN action on Syria, although an appeal from the Arab League may sway its decision, according to Reuters.

On Jan. 10, observer Anwar Malek told Al Jazeera TV that he had quit the mission. Another, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told Reuters yesterday that he was "ready to walk out."

Asked if he agreed with Malek's characterization of the mission as a failure, the monitor said: "It is true, it is true. Even I am trying to leave on Friday. I'm going to Cairo or elsewhere... because the mission is unclear.... It does not serve the citizens. It does not serve anything."

"The Syrian authorities have exploited the weakness in the performance of the delegation to not respond. There is no real response on the ground."

"The military gear is still present even in the mosques. We asked that military equipment be withdrawn from the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque in Deraa and until today they have not withdrawn."

A UN official told the Security Council earlier this week that an estimated 400 people had been killed in Syria since the mission arrived, BBC reports. The US representative to the UN, Susan Rice, said the figure showed an acceleration in the killing of demonstrators. According to the UN, more than 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.

Mr. Malek told Al Jazeera that the government had "gained a lot of time to help it implement its plan" to squash the uprising by allowing the observers into the country, BBC reports.

 "The snipers are everywhere shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released. … The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled," he added. "The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime."

He said that security forces had not withdrawn their tanks from the streets - as mandated by the Arab League peace initiative - but had just hidden them and then brought them back out after the observers had left.

He also said imprisoned protesters who were shown by state television being freed last month as part of an amnesty were actually people who had been detained at random four or five days earlier.

Eleven observers were injuried in the city of Latakia on Jan. 9, according to a separate BBC report. The Arab League, which blamed the attack on protesters but said Syrian authorities should have protected the mission, has delayed sending any more observers in as a result.

Yesterday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the mission had failed and that it should not continue indefinitely, Bloomberg reports. Its mandate expires on Jan. 19 and it's unclear whether observers will remain in the country or return. 

A French television reporter, Gilles Jacquier, was killed Wednesday in Homs during a government-authorized trip. He is the first Western journalist to have been killed covering the conflict.

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