Arab Panel Backs Extending Syria Mission

| 23.01,12. 02:43 AM |


Arab Panel Backs Extending Syria Mission

The Arab League ministerial panel on Syria has recommended that foreign ministers of the 22-member bloc extend its much criticized observer mission in Syria by a month when they meet later on Sunday, a League official said.

"Yes, that's what is going to be recommended to the plenary session," the official said after the panel met behind closed doors to be briefed on the first month of the monitoring mission by its chief, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, ahead of the foreign ministers' decisive meeting.

Dabi wants his mandate to be strengthened, not scrapped, another League official said earlier.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported that the meeting of the foreign ministers was postponed by two hours "amid reports of a dispute over whether or not to extend the observer mission."

The monitors’ report blames both sides, the government and opposition, for the bloodshed, according to an Arab diplomatic source. It recommends an extension while cautioning that its observers would not be deployed indefinitely.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi was at the Cairo talks and due to chair a broader meeting of foreign ministers from the 22-member bloc to decide the future of the mission launched a month ago.

In a statement late Saturday, Dabi said the mission's mandate was "to verify that the Syrian government has implemented the terms of an Arab League plan to solve the crisis, not to stop the bloodshed and violence."

But the opposition Syrian National Council has been lobbying for U.N. intervention and said it would reveal "a counter-report" later on Sunday to try to discredit Dabi's account.

The SNC said it also plans to send a delegation to the United Nations to press the Security Council for intervention.

International pressure has been steadily growing on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with more than 5,400 people killed since anti-government protests broke out last March, according to U.N. figures.

The Arab League deployed observers in Syria on December 26, and there are presently about 165 monitors on the ground.

The Local Coordination Committees, which organize anti-regime protests, said in a statement on Sunday that 976 people have since been killed in a bloody crackdown on dissent, despite the observer mission.

The SNC has appealed to the Arab League to turn the Syria crisis over to the United Nations. Its chief Burhan Ghalioun met on Saturday with Arabi to lobby for scrapping the observer mission.

But a mission official, on condition of anonymity, has said the operation would be extended and the number of observers almost doubled to 300.

Qatar has proposed that Arab troops be deployed in Syria, but Damascus rules out the proposal.


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