Arab ministers ask observer mission in Syria to continue despite criticism

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al Araby talks during a meeting of the Arab States to discuss a report of a peace mission in Syria and ways to strengthen it, in Cairo. (Reuters)

Arab ministers meeting in Cairo have given observers in Syria the green light to continue their mission, despite a barrage of criticism and calls for their withdrawal, and ask the regime in Damascus to put an immediate end to violence against protesters.

The Arab ministerial committee on Syria “has decided to give Arab League observers the necessary time to continue their mission according to the protocol,” it said in its final statement.

On the ground,at least 20 people were killed across the country on Sunday, the General Commission of the Revolution said.

Clashes between the Syrian army and deserters before dawn left 11 soldiers dead and another 20 wounded, according to the British-based activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The watchdog also reported heavy machinegun exchanges between the army and deserters in the Daraa town of Dael, however there was no immediate word on any casualties.

A team of Arab League monitors has been in Syria since Dec. 26, trying to assess whether President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is complying with a peace accord aimed at ending its deadly crackdown on dissent.

But critics say it has been completely outmaneuvered by the government and failed to make any progress towards stemming the crackdown, with calls for the mission to pull out.

Dabi, a Sudanese former military intelligence chief − who is himself the focus of controversy − said it was too early to judge the mission.

“This is the first time that the Arab League has carried out such a mission,” Dabi told Britain’s Observer in an interview. “But it has only just started, so I have not had enough time to form a view.”

The Arab League has admitted to “mistakes” but defended the mission, saying it had secured the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks from cities.

On the eve of the meeting, the head of the monitoring operations room at the League’s headquarters in Cairo, Adnan al-Khudeir, said the withdrawal of the monitors was not on the agenda and they were continuing their work according to protocols agreed with the Syrian government, Reuters reported.

Ten Jordanian monitors had arrived in Damascus on Saturday, Khudeir said, bringing to 153 the number of monitors involved.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Assad. The Free Syrian Army, an armed opposition force composed mainly of army deserters, has joined the revolt. The Syrian government says “terrorists” have killed 2,000 members of the security forces during the uprising.

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