Last Updated: Tue Dec 20, 2011 23:42 pm (KSA) 20:42 pm (GMT)

Dozens killed in Syria as Arab League peace team is due

A demonstrator protests against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to accept monitors who will check its compliance with an Arab League plan for an end to violence. (Reuters)
A demonstrator protests against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to accept monitors who will check its compliance with an Arab League plan for an end to violence. (Reuters)

At least 100 Syrian army deserters were killed or wounded in clashes on Tuesday as Damascus faced new demands to halt its bloody nine-month crackdown on dissent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which provided the casualty figures, also said 36 civilians were killed around the country, 23 of them in the northwestern province of Idlib where the deserters lost their lives.

“After clashes that broke out this morning with the regular army, 100 deserters were besieged then killed or wounded between the villages of Kafruwed and Al-Fatira” in the Idlib district of Jabal al-Zawia, the Britain-based rights group said.

“Dozens of civilians, including many activists, are also surrounded by the Syrian army in Kafruwed,” it said in a statement received in Nicosia, quoting activists on the ground.

It also said 14 members of the security forces were killed in southern Daraa province, where the protests broke out in mid-March.

The Observatory reported on Monday that up to 70 deserters were gunned down as they tried to flee their military posts in the Idlib towns of Kansafra and Kafruwed.

The organization, which said 40 civilians were killed on Monday, urged Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi to “intervene immediately to end this eventual massacre.”

Arabi meanwhile told Reuters in Cairo that an advance team would go to Syria on Thursday, with the 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

“It’s a completely new mission ... and it depends on implementation in good faith,” he said.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to accept the monitors who will check its compliance with an Arab plan for an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

“In a week’s time, from the start of the operation, we will know (if Syria is complying),” Elaraby said.

The team would include security, legal and administrative observers, with human rights experts expected to follow.

General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, former head of Sudanese military intelligence and state minister for security arrangements, was named to head the mission.

Dabi, who coordinated between the Sudanese government and the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping troops in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, is expected in Cairo soon to get his marching orders from Arabi.

Remain skeptical

The observer mission is part of an Arab peace plan endorsed by Syria on November 2, which also calls for a halt to violence, releasing detainees and the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.

Despite signing the accord, Syria has failed to convince either the opposition or Western governments pushing for tough U.N. action that it is willing to follow up its words with deeds.

Some opposition leaders have called for foreign military intervention to protect civilians from Assad’s forces.

France said it hoped the monitors could carry out their mission quickly. But it also said Assad had a record of broken pledges and that Monday’s violence showed there “isn’t a moment to lose”.

“For months we have seen Bashar al-Assad not keep to commitments he made to his people and he has increased his efforts to play for time in the face of the international community,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations often led by army deserters.

Rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council urged Syria on Tuesday to immediately halt its “killing machine” as well as end the bloodshed and “lift all signs of armed conflict.”

The United States also expressed doubt that Syria was genuine in its promise.

“A signature on a piece of paper from a regime like this, that has broken promise after promise after promise, means relatively little to us,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.

And Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the Arab League needs to show that its observers are “independent and able to work effectively” to dispel “well-founded fears of yet another Syrian stalling tactic.”

“Violence must immediately end, the military withdraw, political prisoners be released and unhindered humanitarian access be granted,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

“We will therefore judge the agreement of the Syrian leadership with the Arab League not by its words but only by actions, namely their immediate implementation,” he added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was “deeply worried” about the violation of human rights and has called on Damascus to stop violence against civilians as well as against army deserters, the German government said.

The opposition Syrian National Council charged that Damascus’s acceptance of observers was merely a “ploy” to head off a threat by the pan-Arab bloc to go to the U.N. Security Council.

“It’s all about implementation,” said Britain’s U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged his government’s full cooperation with the observer mission and expressed hope the bloc would lift sweeping sanctions it imposed on Damascus last month.

“Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers’ mission from the Arab League,” Muallem said on Monday.

Syria blames the unrest on “armed terrorist groups” – not peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and rights groups – and Muallem said he expected the observer mission to vindicate that position.

On Monday the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Syria, where the U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March.

Syria meanwhile introduced a law imposing the death penalty on anyone arming “terrorists,” state media reported on Tuesday.

However in a show of military power, state television said on Tuesday the air force and navy both held live-fire exercises aimed at deterring any attack on Syria by land or sea.

The Syrian authorities have made it hard for anyone to know what is going on in their troubled country. They have barred most foreign journalists and imposed tight curbs on local ones.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Syria, which combined with the unrest itself have pushed the economy into a sharp fall. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to over 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the crisis erupted.

In response to the economic downturn, Al-Baath newspaper said Prime Minister Adel Safar had instructed ministries to slash their expenditures by 25 percent. The cuts affected spending on items including fuel, stationery and hospitality.

Comments »

Post Your Comment »

Social Media »