Arab League body asks its Syria observers to leave

An advisory body to the Arab League is calling for the immediate withdrawal of the bloc's observer mission to Syria, saying the Assad regime is continuing to kill protesters despite the presence of the mission.
Protesters cover their faces from tear gas being fired in the Syrian city of Adlb on Dec. 30, 2011. The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the country since March. (Reuters)

An advisory body to the Arab League has asked that the 22-nation bloc immediately remove its observer mission to Syria, saying its presence is not helping to halt the government's violent crackdown on dissidents.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-member committee composed of four delegates from each of the league's member states, said Sunday that Arabs are angered by the ongoing violence while dozens of monitors are in the country.

Ali Salem al-Deqbasi, the Kuwaiti head of the advisory group which can issue non-binding recommendations, said the presence of the observers is distracting from the "flagrant violations" committed by President Bashar Assad's regime.

"The mission of the Arab League team has missed its aim of stopping the killing of children and ensuring the withdrawal of troops from the Syrian streets, giving the Syrian regime a cover to commit inhumane acts under the noses of the Arab League observers," al-Deqbasi said in a statement.

The observers, dispatched under a Dec. 19 peace plan signed by President Bashar Assad, are supposed to ensure that the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, initiate talks with opposition groups and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.

The group, which landed in Syria last week for its one-month mission, has come under increasing pressure with many activists saying the monitors are doing little to stop the violence. The UN estimates more than 5,000 people have died during the 10-month anti-government uprising.

International sanctions on Syria

On Saturday, amateur video surfaced purporting to show one observer in the southern city of Daraa saying he had seen snipers and if they were not removed within 24 hours there would be "other measures."

The Sudanese general in charge of the mission, however, rejected that interpretation, telling BBC News the man was speaking in hypotheticals.

"This man said that if he saw — by his own eyes — those snipers he will report immediately," Lt.-Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa Al-Dabi said. "But he didn't see [snipers]."

In an interview with CBC News, moreover, a Syrian-based human rights activist said there are too few observers in the country.

"Up to now we have 50 or 60 monitors coming to Syria," Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression said Friday. "We are talking about 300 protest areas."

The Assad regime, which maintains the deaths in the country are a result of violent opposition groups that are threatening the state, has come under increasing international pressure over its crackdown — including sanctions from Canada, the United States and the European Union.

It is impossible to verify casualty figures in the country because foreign journalists are prevented from reporting freely.

The continuing violence in Syria, and questions about al-Dabi's human rights record, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited co-operation with the observers is merely a ploy by Assad to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

The Syrian opposition has called for the removal of al-Dabi, a longtime loyalist of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on an international arrest warrant on charges of genocide in the Darfur region.

With files from The Associated Press