Syria on edge as monitors prepare to give initial report

The Arab League monitors will make their report on Syria today as critics worry the mission is not credible. 

Arab League monitors walk through the Al-Sabil area of Daraa, Syria, Jan. 3. Syrian activists accused President Bashar Assad's regime of misleading Arab League observers while other Syrian residents say Syrian forces stop shelling while the observers visit and continuing their shelling when the observers leave.

The Arab League is set to hear the initial results of its observation mission to Syria and determine its next step to rein in the ongoing violence between Damascus' forces and anti-government protesters.

The head of the mission, Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Dabi, will give his first official report to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers today, but the League is already showing indications that it will expand the mission and perhaps even seek United Nations assistance. Al Jazeera English writes that Qatar, which currently heads the League, is pushing to invite UN technicians and human rights experts to help Arab monitors judge whether Syria is complying with the peace deal it agreed to last month.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told AJE that Syria was not living up to its commitments, and its forces are still killing civilians.

Dabi told the UK's Observer newspaper that Damascus had shown observers "enough" cooperation for the moment.  However, he said he was hesitant to judge the mission's success so far, as it "has only just started, ... I have not had enough time to form a view."

"Missions like these can take a long time," he added. "The African Union mission in Sudan began in 2004 and it is still there. I can't say how long this one will take.''

But Dabi has been a source of controversy himself. The Observer notes that he was a former head of Sudanese military intelligence in Darfur, and is close to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is himself wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.  And after visiting the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs, where many have been killed by government forces, he said that "some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening."

Residents of Homs told CNN that the Syrian forces simply work around the observers' schedule, halting while they are present and continuing their shelling of the city when the observers leave.  "They take the leaguers where they want," one resident told CNN on Saturday. "These are massacres. We have tens dying daily. Stores are closed ... civilian life is at a halt."

Saturday also saw pro-government demonstrations in Damascus amid mourning for 26 people reportedly killed in a suicide bombing on Friday.  Reuters reports that state television showed mourners lined the streets in the neighborhood where the bombing took place, as crowds chanted "The people want Bashar al-Assad!" and "One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!"

But the opposition Syrian National Council accused Damascus of staging the bombing to bolster its contention that it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists," not a popular pro-democracy movement. 

Footage provided by anti-government activists appears to support the opposition's accusation, reports AJE.  The video, which activists say was mistakenly aired without editing by Syrian state television, show bags of vegetables and police shields being placed at the sites of purported attacks -- apparently to indicate that shoppers and police were injured by the bombings.  Another video shows a man, initially appearing injured, suddenly get up and walk off camera unharmed.

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