News / Middle East

Arab League Sees Progress in Syria Mission; Snipers Remain

This still image taken from video off a social media website shows protesters covering their faces from tear gas being fired in a Damascus suburb, December 30, 2011.
This still image taken from video off a social media website shows protesters covering their faces from tear gas being fired in a Damascus suburb, December 30, 2011.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El Arabi said Monday that an Arab League observer mission to Syria has made progress, but that snipers remain a threat in Syrian cities and must be withdrawn. 

Video clip - violence in Syria

The Arab League chief told reporters that snipers continue to fire on Syrian civilians, but he emphasized positive points of the week-old mission, which is intended to end the bloodshed that has flared during a government crackdown on political dissent.  

El Arabi said progress has been made in removing heavy weaponry from Syrian cities, and he said the Syrian government has released more than 3,000 prisoners.

El Arabi said tanks and artillery have been withdrawn from populated areas.  He added that Arab League observers have also helped to remove corpses from cities, and to bring food to the people in Homs.

But the Arab League chief noted that shooting continues and that the next step will be to work to have snipers withdrawn completely.

Opposition websites show videos of what are purported to be government snipers on rooftops in several cities.  One video shows snipers on the minaret of a mosque.  Another video shows the body of a child reportedly killed by a sniper as he left home to buy bread.  The authenticity of the videos has not been confirmed.

Middle East analyst Hilal Khashan of the American University of Beirut says the Arab League chief's comments about snipers was a breakthrough for the observer mission. "El Arabi said today that the Arab League observers will soon issue a statement on the outcome of their mission in Syria.  I think he gave us a clue about the direction of the initial statement.  He said that there are still snipers on rooftops.  For El Arabi to say that there are snipers is a major development," he said.

The Arab League observer mission is scheduled to end in a little more than two weeks.  More than 70 Arab League observers are in Syria, with more expected to arrive.  But Syrian opposition leaders complain that the team is undermanned, under-equipped and inadequately trained for the mission.

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