x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arab League asks UN for help in Syria

Observer mission 'has made mistakes' says Qatar premier.

BEIRUT // The Arab League says it has made mistakes with its heavily criticised observer mission in Syria and has appealed to the United Nations for help.

Arab government sources said yesterday the mission, attacked by critics as ineffective and shackled by the Syrian authorities, would continue.

Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who heads the Arab League task force on Syria, discussed the mission - first of its kind for the league - with the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in New York on Wednesday.

"I said we must evaluate the types of mistakes it made and without a shadow of a doubt I see mistakes, even though we went in to observe, not to stop the violence," he said.

He did not say what mistakes had been made.

About 100 Arab League observers are in Syria to monitor the implementation of the peace deal it brokered, under which troops should be pulled off the streets, political prisoners released and President Bashar Al Assad's government should talk to opposition leaders.

The UN says more than 5,000 have been killed as the government tries to crush an increasingly violent revolt that threatens to descend into civil war.

The government says an additional 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed, some by soldiers who have defected in the nine-month revolt.

Syrian authorities announced yesterday 552 detainees had been freed. The move came a week after 755 other prisoners were released.

An activist group, Avaaz, said yesterday the Syrian regime had tortured hundreds of people to death in crowded prisons, jails and illegal detention centres across the country since the uprising began in March. It said 617 people have been confirmed killed under torture by security forces.

"Assad's henchmen have tried to break the pro-democracy movement in these torture chambers, but brave Syrians are still standing up for their rights," said Stephanie Brancaforte, campaign director at Avaaz.

Avaaz also put the death toll at more than 6,800.

Syrian opposition groups say the monitors have not been given free rein to properly monitor the situation.

Some have expressed concern the observer mission could provide political cover for the government's continued suppression of its opponents.

Colonel Riyadh Al Asaad, the head of the Free Syrian Army - a group of soldiers who have defected - labelled the mission a "failure" yesterday and called on the Arab League to withdraw its observers.

"We call on the Arab League to step aside and let the United Nations take over responsibility as it is more apt to find solutions," he said.

Despite the presence of the monitors, troops remain deployed in some areas and killings have continued, according to opposition groups.

The Local Coordination Committees - an umbrella group that documents the uprising and plans events on the ground - believes almost 400 people have been killed since the first monitors arrived in Syria on December 26.

The group said at least 10 people were killed yesterday. These numbers could not be independently verified.

The government insists it is under attack from foreign-backed extremist groups.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Feltman, Washington's top Middle East diplomat, was on his way to Cairo yesterday for talks with the league. The 22-member organisation will discuss its observer mission at a meeting tomorrow.

The White House said this week that continued "sniper fire, torture and murder" made it clear the requirements of the peace plan were not being met, and it was "past time for the Security Council to act" to end the violence.

Mr Al Assad agreed to the Arab peace plan on December 19, but the Arab League has acknowledged its plan has failed to stop violence. Yesterday, a team of monitors visited the tense Damascus suburb of Arbeen, two villages in the southern province of Deraa and a hospital in the city of Hama, state TV said.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press and Reuters