The United States on Tuesday welcomed the start of Arab League monitoring operations in Syria, but urged the expansion of the unprecedented mission. U.S. officials accused Syrian officials of stepping up violence against protestors before the monitors deployed.
Officials here are expressing relief that the long-awaited monitoring mission is underway. But they say they hope to see the Arab League observer force expanded, and they accuse Syrian authorities of trying to decimate the opposition before the monitors arrived.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said it was obvious that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepped up violence against protestors as Arab League personnel prepared to enter the country.
“The government in Damascus - the regime, rather - used the last several days as an opportunity to escalate their attacks on several cities and neighborhoods in Homs, in Dera’a and other cities prior to the deployment of these monitors," said Toner. "It was a horrible situation where the violence spiked over the course of several days. We obviously condemn this escalation of violence.”
Toner said the actions are inconsistent with the Arab League initiative, which the Syrian government agreed to in principle early last month, but only signed the protocol authorizing the entry of the monitors last week.
Early press reports said the Arab League intended to field several hundred monitors. But the initial force, which arrived in the country late Monday and deployed in the protest flash-point of Homs on Tuesday, numbers only about 50, with another 100 to be deployed soon.
Human rights groups and policy analysts accuse the Arab League of yielding to Syrian pressure to reduce the number of observers.
State Department Spokesman Toner said the United States wants to see the international presence expanded, but he commended the Arab League for its initiative.
“The Arab League has accomplished a great deal in a very short time - both in engaging on the situation in Syria and in a very proactive way, addressing the international community’s concerns about what’s happening there. The fact that they’ve got now people on the ground providing that monitoring ability is an important first step, but obviously we want to see more.”
Toner said the United States has not received an initial report from the Arab League on the team's findings, although news reports say there was gunfire as monitors met civilians in Homs. He said the U.S. ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, has met Arab League representatives in the Syrian capital, but that he had not yet talked with observer force chief, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi.