Middle East News
LEAD: Arab League keeps Syria monitors, despite criticism
Jan 8, 2012, 19:19 GMT
Cairo - The Arab League agreed Sunday to keep an observer mission in Syria, after the observers reportedly criticized Damascus for failing to comply with a peace plan to end 10 months of bloodshed in the country.
'The observers will continue their mission and will pursue it in full honesty,' the organization's head Nabil al-Arabi said in Cairo.
He was speaking after the chief of the mission, Sudanese General Mohamed al-Dabi, reported to an Arab League committee about the performance of the observers in Syria.
The observers' report, which has not been made public, referred to the fact that the Syrian government was continuing its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, sources in Cairo disclosed.
The Syrian authorities were also accused of keeping detainees in unknown places, the sources added.
More than 160 observers have been dispatched to Syria in the past two weeks to verify whether Damascus was complying with a plan committing the government to pull military hardware out of civilian areas, release detainees and give media free access to the country.
'I hope the Syrian leadership will take firm decisions to stop the bloodbath,' said Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim after the committee's meeting.
Jassim, who heads the committee on Syria, added that the UN Security Council was not waiting for the Arab League to refer the Syrian crisis to the world body.
'The (Syrian) file is there and the council can make a decision at any moment,' he added.
The committee called Sunday for the Syrian government to halt its clampdown on 'peaceful demonstrations' and 'guarantee' protection for civilians.
Syria's opposition has sharply criticized the Arab observers, saying they have done very little to stop the government's violence against protesters.
On Sunday, at least 20 people were killed - including 11 government soldiers - in several areas of Syria, opposition activists said.
The soldiers were killed in clashes with army defectors in the southern province of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The nine civilian deaths occurred mainly in the dissident province of Homs, according to the Syria Revolution General Committee, a network of opposition activists.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since an anti-government uprising erupted in mid-March, according to the United Nations.