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Arab League to Hold Review Session on Syria Observers' Work

Arab League monitors check Al-Sabil area, in Daraa, Syria, January 3, 2012.

Arab League monitors check Al-Sabil area, in Daraa, Syria, January 3, 2012.

Amid mounting criticism over the effectiveness of its observer mission to Syria, the Arab League has called an urgent meeting Saturday to discuss the future role of its team. France's foreign minister and Syrian opposition groups say the League mission has done little to quell violence against civilians.

Women in the Syrian city of Daraa told Arab League observers Tuesday about an alleged shooting by government security forces. Videos on Syrian opposition websites show citizens complaining about the government crackdown to League observers.

Responding to criticism over ongoing violence by Syrian security forces, the Arab League has called a foreign ministers' meeting for Saturday to discuss the future of its observer team. Arab League chief Nabil al Araby told journalists this week that progress has been made, but that violence continues in Syria, and must be stopped.

Witnesses described people panicking Tuesday afternoon in the city of Hama, as Syrian security forces fired at a large crowd of protesters. Opposition sources said at least several people were killed. It was not possible to confirm the casualty figures.

Earlier Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe criticized the Arab League mission and said the conditions of its deployment should be re-examined.

Juppe said more than 5,000 Syrians have died and that the U.N. Security Council has been unable to act (because several countries are blocking action). He added that France is pleased by the Arab League observer mission, but that the conditions of the mission need to be re-examined.

Opposition leaders complain that the Syrian government is flouting the observer mission by hiding tanks behind sandbags, sequestering thousands of prisoners in places off limits to observers, and using snipers to fire on civilians.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says that despite some accomplishments, the observers have been mostly unable to compel the Syrian government to comply with the Arab League plan to halt violence against civilians:

Abou Diab says the Syrian regime has not respected the Arab League plan, which includes not only the deployment of observers, but the withdrawal of the army from cities, an end to killing civilians, and the liberation of all prisoners.

Pro-Syrian government television interviewed several people who claimed that "terrorists" continue to attack government troops. The Syrian government said Tuesday that terrorists also blew up a gas pipeline near the northern town of Rastan, forcing further electricity cuts nationwide.