x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Head of Arab League monitors defends mission progress in Syria

Mohammed Al Dabi, a Sudanese general, says the violence in the country has declined after the observers were deployed last month.

A damaged armoured vehicle belonging to the Syrian army is seen in a street in Homs. The Syrian government rejected the Arab League plan to extend their mission, called the proposal a “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs.
A damaged armoured vehicle belonging to the Syrian army is seen in a street in Homs. The Syrian government rejected the Arab League plan to extend their mission, called the proposal a “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs.

BEIRUT // The head of the Arab League’s monitoring team defended the controversial mission yesterday saying the violence in Syria declined after the observers were deployed last month.

“When the delegation arrived, there was clear and obvious violence,” Mohammed Al Dabi, a Sudanese general, told a news conference at the Arab League in Cairo yesterday. “But after the delegation arrived, the violence started to lessen gradually.”

However, Gen Al Dabi’s comments contrast with reports from the United Nations (UN) and Syrian opposition activists who have said violence and killings continued while the almost 200 Arab monitors were on the ground.

Gen Al Dabi hit back at critics of the mission who have said the observers failed to stop the violence, saying his team was sent to document compliance with an Arab League peace plan, agreed to by the Syrian regime last November.

The deal was supposed to see Syrian troops pulled off the streets, political prisoners freed and talks with opposition groups started.

“The mission’s role is monitoring and is not stopping the killing or stopping the destruction or otherwise,” Gen Al Dabi said, adding his mission had reported 136 deaths of both opposition and government supporters since they started work in Syria on December 26.

The UN has previously said at least 400 people were killed after the arrival of the Arab League monitors. Opposition groups have put the number as high as 700 dead.

The UN estimates more than 5,400 people have been killed since the government launched its crackdown on protests that spread across the country in March of last year.

The Syrian authorities have said more than 2,000 members of the security forces have died in the violence, which they blamed on foreign-backed terrorist groups.

Gen Al Dabi’s comments came a day after Arab foreign ministers laid out a proposal that would see President Bashar Al Assad hand over power to his deputy, as well as the formation of a national unity government within two months.

Lebanon, whose government is aligned with Damascus, was the only country that did not endorse the Arab League’s new plan, calling it an “unbalanced” approach.

The league also decided on Sunday to extend and expand the observer mission for another month. It was not immediately clear if Syria would allow the monitoring mission to continue.

In what was seen as a blow to the 22-member organisation’s efforts to end the crisis in Syria, Saudi Arabia said it was withdrawing its monitors from the mission, while urging the international community to exert “all possible pressure” on Damascus.

The Syrian government rejected the Arab League plan yesterday, and called the proposal a “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs, according to the state-run news agency, Sana.

The European Union yesterday welcomed the new Arab plan, while announcing a tightening of sanctions against the Syrian regime, adding 22 more officials and eight companies to a blacklist.

Reports also emerged yesterday Russia has signed a deal to sell combat jets to Syria. The Russian business daily Kommersant reported yesterday the country’s state arms trader, Rosoboronexport, had made a US$550 million (Dh2bn) deal to sell 36 Yak-130 jets to Syria.

A spokesman for Rosoboronexport refused to comment. But it comes as Russia distances itself from growing international condemnation of the Al Assad regime’s violent crackdown on protesters.

Tens of thousands of people yesterday took to the streets of the suburb of Douma outside Damascus where 11 people were reportedly killed on Sunday, according to opposition activists. It was not clear whether the dead had been shot by security forces or killed in clashes between troops and members of a rebel army. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reports by Reuters and The Associated Press