News / Middle East

Syrian Civilian Deaths Undermine Arab League Mission

An image grab taken from AFP TV shows Syrian security forces walking towards anti-regime protesters as they attempt to reach the main square in the flashpoint city of Homs on January 1, 2012.
An image grab taken from AFP TV shows Syrian security forces walking towards anti-regime protesters as they attempt to reach the main square in the flashpoint city of Homs on January 1, 2012.

Syrian security forces were said to have killed at least seven more protesters Sunday as an Arab League advisory body called for the immediate withdrawal of monitors from the country, saying the unit is failing to prevent government troops from murdering civilians.

Four of the new deaths, the first in 2012, came when troops loyal to embattled President Bashar al-Assad killed protesters in the Damascus suburb of Daria. Other civilian casualties were reported in Homs.

Activists say more than 150 people have been killed across the country since the observers began their one-month mission last week.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-member committee of delegates from Arab League states, said the violence is continuing to claim many victims, including children. Speaker Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas said monitors should pull out immediately, given the ongoing violence.

The parliament's recommendations are nonbinding, and it operates separately from the Arab League.

Activists have accused the government of posting snipers on rooftops, an issue that appears to have triggered a dispute among observers on the ground in Syria.

One monitor filmed in Daraa said his group had seen snipers and would ask authorities to remove them immediately or face consequences. But the observer mission's head, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, later said the monitor seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark and had been misinterpreted.

Dabi, a veteran military intelligence officer, is a controversial figure because he served under Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region.

The Arab League is scheduled to dispatch additional observers to Syria later this week, and it is not clear what impact the Arab lawmaker's call will have on the planned deployment.

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since March during a crackdown on protests inspired by the Arab Spring democracy movement.  The Assad government claims armed terrorists are driving the revolt.

Syrian authorities, under increasing international pressure, agreed last month to allow Arab League monitors into the country. The deal required the government to give monitors freedom of movement through most of the country except for sensitive military sites.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday that the recent violence has left hundreds of people dead or wounded and many others in military custody.

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