Arab League Observers Stay Despite Criticism

Posted January 6th, 2012 at 4:45 am (UTC-5)
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An Arab League mission in Syria is pushing forward, despite mounting criticism over its effectiveness in holding President Bashar al-Assad to his promise to quell the violence.

The Arab League will meet in Egypt on Sunday to assess the mission's initial findings in Syria and to decide whether it will continue. The initial 50 observers arrived on December 26 to monitor the Syrian government's compliance with a plan to end a bloody, 10-month crackdown on protesters.

On Thursday, Qatar's prime minister conceded that the Arab League observer mission in Syria has made “mistakes.” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said United Nations assistance is needed to improve the monitoring of Mr. Assad's government.

After meeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Sheikh Hamad acknowledged that Arab League monitors have “less experience” than other international observer teams. He chairs the Arab League committee on Syria.

Syria's main opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, is also calling for international assistance in Syria. He said in interviews with British media on Thursday that Western countries should establish a no-fly zone over parts of the country. Ghalioun emphasized it could be on a smaller scale than the NATO-led no-fly zone in Libya, but said it could help support the revolution.

The leader of the Syrian National Council told the BBC and The Telegraph that the Arab League needs to prove that it is seriously challenging Mr. Assad's government.

The Arab League effort is aimed at ensuring Mr. Assad follows through on his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti-government demonstrations.

The United Nations estimates that 5,000 have died since the uprising began in March. In comparison, global activist group Avaaz says it has verified through multiple independent sources that nearly 7,000 people have been killed in the Syrian unrest.

Avaaz, a group that operates primarily online , is also challenging Arab League investigators to expose the regime's “torture chambers” and bring an end to the harsh treatment of protesters.

The Syrian government said on Thursday that it had released more than 500 people imprisoned for their role in anti-government protests. Syrian state television the government had set free those detainees “whose hands were not stained with blood.”

Earlier this week, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El Araby said the League's team in Syria had secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners. But the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government is vastly overstating those figures.