The White House on Tuesday condemned the Syrian regime’s unrelenting violence against protesters there, saying it was “past time” for the U.N. Security Council to take sanctions against Damascus.
The Syrian opposition General Commission said 23 people were killed by government forces on Tuesday across the country.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Syria had failed to comply with standards set by regional observers monitoring the situation, adding that “as sniper fire, torture, and murder in Syria continue, it is clear that the requirements of the Arab League protocol have not been met.”
He added that the moment had arrived for the international community to take measures against President Bashar al-Assad and his government.
“We believe it’s past time for the Security Council to act,” Carney said.
“We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.
“We’re working with our international partners to increase the pressure on the Assad regime to cease the completely unacceptable violence that it's been perpetrating on its own citizens”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe earlier said the Arab observer mission needed to be “clarified” and complained that Russia was blocking any U.N. condemnation of the Damascus regime.
Democracy activists have denounced the Arab League observer mission as “unprofessional,” after the bloc’s chief admitted snipers were still active in the country despite their presence.
The Syrian opposition denied Arab League reports about withdrawal of troops and military vehicles from the Syrian cities.
“The conditions under which this observer mission is operating should be clarified,” Juppe told French television I-Tele, adding that he was “skeptical” about its progress.
Juppe questioned whether the observers really had free access to information, but said he would await their report, expected in the coming days, adding: “But I do not consider the battle is already lost.”
He also insisted again that the U.N. Security Council “cannot stay silent” on the situation in Syria, and said he regretted that permanent Council member Russia “continues to block” any condemnation of the regime by the U.N.
The Syrian opposition denied reports that troops and military vehicles were withdrawn from the Syrian cities, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby said on Monday that Syria’s military had now withdrawn from residential areas and was on the outskirts of the cities, but gunfire continued and snipers were still a threat.
Syrian activists published footage on the social networks showing an Arab observer saying that the Syrian military is still spreading in the cities and that snipers are still on the building roofs.
Meanwhile, Walid al-Benni, head of the central bureau of the Syrian National Council, in an interview with Al Arabiya, urged the importance of increasing the number of Arab observers in Syria so as to be able to have a wider vision of the situation.
As many as 24 people have been killed by the gunfire of Syrian security forces on Monday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
Meanwhile army defectors whose armed insurgency has threatened to overshadow the peaceful popular uprising captured dozens of members of the security forces by seizing two checkpoints on Monday, the opposition said.
Army defectors also clashed with security forces at a third checkpoint, killing and wounding an unspecified number of troops loyal to Assad, opposition activists said, according to Reuters.
Assad is struggling to defeat a popular uprising and avoid becoming the latest leader to be toppled by “Arab Spring” revolutions, after those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
After nearly 10 months of violence in which the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed, mostly unarmed civilians, an Arab League monitoring mission has spent the past week assessing Assad's compliance with a peace plan.
But al-Araby on Monday defended the monitors in his first remarks since they were deployed in Syria a week ago, saying the “mission needs more time.”
“There are still snipers and gunfire. There must be a total halt to the gunfire,” Araby said, even as monitors strive to stem the persistent bloodshed, according to AFP.
The issue would be raised with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, he told reporters in Cairo, “because the aim is to stop the shooting and protect civilians.”
But “it is difficult to say who is firing on whom,” Araby added.
The League’s plan calls for Assad to pull troops and tanks from the streets, free detainees and talk to his opponents.
Al-Araby said the monitors had secured the release of 3,484 prisoners and succeeded in getting food supplies into Homs, one of the centers of the violence. “Give the monitoring mission the chance to prove its presence on the ground,” he said.
But many Syrian opposition activists are skeptical that the mission can put real pressure on Assad to halt the violence.
After weeks of stalling, Syria agreed last month to allow the deployment of observers as part of an Arab roadmap calling for the withdrawal of the military from cities and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The mission has been mired in controversy since a first team of 50 observers arrived on Dec. 26, with activists and commentators saying Syrian authorities were keeping the monitors on a short leash and critical of the choice of a former top Sudanese military commander to head the operation.
On Sunday, the Arab Parliament, an advisory body of the 22-member Arab League, intensified the pressure saying the monitors should be immediately withdrawn having failed to halt the government’s crackdown on dissent.
“We are seeing an increase in violence, more people are being killed including children... and all this in the presence of Arab League monitors, which has angered the Arab people,” said the body’s speaker, Salem al-Diqbassi.
He urged Araby to “immediately pull out the Arab observers, considering the continued killing of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime.”
In his response, the League chief said Diqbassi’s comments were an “important statement.”
An Arab foreign ministers’ committee on Syria will meet on Saturday to discuss a preliminary report from the monitors, Arab League sources said on Tuesday.
The meeting will bring together Arab League chief al-Araby and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Qatar and Oman, the sources said.
Al-Araby stressed the League would not back down from the mission and would be sending more observers soon.
“We have 70 observers in six cities who carried out 26 missions (so far). Thirty more monitors will join them within days,” Araby said.
He also revealed Damascus promised to allow foreign journalists into Syria to cover the unrest, “with the exception of three television stations.”
Araby did not identify the networks but an Arab League official told AFP on condition of anonymity they were Al Arabiya, al-Jazeera and France 24.
The head of the observer mission, Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, is due to send his “first report in the next two days” on the situation in Syria, Araby said.
“An Arab foreign minister has asked that a ministerial meeting be convened to discuss the report,” he added.
Kinan Shami, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union activists’ group, said from Damascus that people were taking huge risks by gathering in cities where Arab League monitors were expected, in the hope of talking to them.
“People expected them in Daraya yesterday on New Year’s Day and thousands went to the main square, raised the Independence Flag on a mast and gathered around it. Security forces shot at them and killed two protesters,” Shami told Reuters.
“The people are trying to show the monitors the repression and are risking their lives to meet them because everywhere they go the monitors are surrounded by security... Other than getting arrested and beaten or killed, they could easily face endless counts of treason and communicating with foreign powers.”
But Issam Ishak, a senior member of the main opposition Syrian National Council, said the monitors must be given a chance. “Their presence is helping further erode the fear factor and is encouraging the expansion of the protests.”
The ongoing violence is reinforcing the opposition’s view that Syria’s limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a ploy by Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.