x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pan-Arab body calls for League monitors to withdraw from Syria

Presence of observers 'giving regime cover to commit inhumane acts', the Kuwaiti head of the Arab Parliament says.

Arab League observers, wearing orange jackets, visit the wounded in the national hospital in Daraa, southern Syria, on Saturday. The observers are inspecting hotspots across the country.
Arab League observers, wearing orange jackets, visit the wounded in the national hospital in Daraa, southern Syria, on Saturday. The observers are inspecting hotspots across the country.

CAIRO // A pan-Arab body yesterday called for the immediate withdrawal of the Arab League monitors from Syria because President Bashar Al Assad's regime has continued with the killing of government opponents, despite the presence of the observers.

The 88-member Arab Parliament said Arabs are angered by the Syrian regime's ongoing killings while the almost 100 monitors were in the country.

The monitors are supposed to be ensuring Syria complies with terms of the League's plan to end the nine-month crackdown on dissent. The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed.

But the Kuwaiti head of the Arab Parliament, Ali Salem Al Deqbasi, said the presence of the monitors was distracting from the "flagrant violations" committed by the regime.

"The killing of children and the violation of human-rights law is happening in the presence of Arab League monitors, raising the fury of Arab people," he said.

"The mission of the Arab League team has missed its aim of stopping the killing of children and ensuring the withdrawal of troops from the Syrian streets, giving the Syrian regime a cover to commit inhumane acts under the noses of the Arab League observers," Mr Al Deqbasi said in a statement.

"This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League."

Activists say more than 150 people have been killed across the country since the observers began their one-month mission last Tuesday.

The Arab League plan demands the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks with the opposition, free political prisoners and allow human-rights workers and journalists into the country.

The Arab League created the Arab Parliament, which is made up of lawmakers and advisers from states around the Middle East. Its recommendations are non-binding.

While the Arab Parliament has little sway on Damascus or the Arab League, Mr Al Deqbasi's remarks about the observer mission represent growing concern about the monitors' ability to deter Mr Al Assad's regime from killing protesters.

The ongoing violence in Syria and questions about the human-rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, Sudanese Lt Gen Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa Al Dabi, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited co-operation with the observers is merely a ploy by the government to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

The Syrian opposition has called for the removal of Gen Al Dabi, a long-time loyalist of the Sudanese president, Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted on an international arrest warrant on charges of genocide in the Darfur region.

Gen Al Dabi has infuriated some observers by suggesting he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centres of unrest.

An Arab League official, commenting on the parliament's statement, said it was too early to judge the mission's success, saying it was scheduled to remain in Syria for a month and that more monitors were on their way.

The parliament called on the League's secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, to convene a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to adopt a resolution to withdraw the mission immediately.

The continued abuse and killing of innocent Syrian civilians was a "blatant violation to the Arab League's protocol", Mr Deqbasi said.

Syria's state news agency, Sana, said there had been "massive demonstrations" throughout Syria on Friday in support of Mr Al Assad, and denouncing "the plot which Syria is exposed to".

It said demonstrators had denounced "the pressure and biased campaigns targeting Syria's security and stability" and the "lies and fabrications of the misleading media channels".

Syrian authorities have accused foreign powers of arming and funding "terrorists" in the country and say 2,000 of the government's soldiers and police have been killed.

Hundreds of soldiers have deserted and joined the uprising against Mr Al Assad, taking what began as a peaceful protest movement close to civil war.

The violence has forced thousands of people from their homes, some fleeing to neighbouring Lebanon.

The Arab League has imposed economic sanctions on Syria, stopping trade, dealings with its central bank and halting government-funded projects in the country.

The Swiss supreme court has rejected a demand by a cousin of Mr Al Assad to visit his lawyer in Switzerland.

Hafez Makhlouf had petitioned Switzerland's Federal Tribunal to grant him a visa so he could discuss with his lawyer how to overturn international sanctions imposed against him.

The verdict published on Thursday was reported yesterday by Switzerland's NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

The 40-year-old army colonel heads the Damascus branch of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate.

European Union sanctions against Col Makhlouf say he is close to Mr Al Assad's younger brother Maher, believed to be leading the crackdown against regime opponents.

Last week, Switzerland said it had frozen 50 million Swiss francs (Dh194.5m) linked to senior regime officials.

* Associated Press and Reuters