News / Middle East

Syrian Activists: Damascus Misleading Arab League Observers

FILE -  In this Jan. 3, 2012 file photo provided by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Arab League monitors walk through the Al-Sabil area of Daraa, Syria.
FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2012 file photo provided by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Arab League monitors walk through the Al-Sabil area of Daraa, Syria.

Opposition groups have accused the Syrian government of misleading Arab League peace monitors by taking them to loyalist areas, changing street signs to confuse them and sending supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.

Activists in the cities of Idlib in the north, central Homs and Daraa in the south Wednesday said the army had hidden heavy weapons in urban areas even though league monitors said they had been withdrawn. The activists said loyalists had painted military vehicles blue to make them look like they belong to the police.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said earlier this week that monitors had reported back that government forces had withdrawn from residential areas. He said the mission is ensuring a halt to bloodshed and has secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners.

But the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman, said his contacts on the ground have not seen "the release of detainees or the true removal of a military presence from the streets."

Internet videos posted by activists showed armored vehicles hidden behind dirt barriers. Such footage is impossible to verify and Syria has barred entry to most foreign journalists.

The Syrian government Wednesday rejected U.S. accusations that it is failing to live up to its agreement with the Arab League. Washington said Syria is trying to provoke more violence to justify retaliation.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdisi, said those statements are "offensive to the Arab League" and a "blatant interference in its work."

As observers continued their efforts Wednesday, activist groups said security forces and pro-government militia shot dead at least 10 people in central Homs province.

The Syrian opposition has sharply criticized the observer mission, saying it allows President Bashar al-Assad to continue cracking down on the rebellion against his 11-year autocratic rule. Rights groups have expressed increasing concern that monitors are "unprofessional" and lack experience.

The Obama administration's top Middle East envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, will hold talks in Cairo Thursday ahead of an Arab League meeting two days later to discuss Syria. League ministers will review the observer team's assessment of whether Damascus is keeping a pledge to end the violence.

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the Syrian government's crackdown on protests inspired by the Arab Spring democracy movement. Damascus says it is fighting Islamist militants directed from abroad that have killed at least 2,000 of Mr. Assad's forces.

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