Arab body seeks Syria withdrawal


An Arab League advisory body called today for the immediate withdrawal of the organisation's monitoring mission in Syria, saying it was allowing Damascus to cover up continued violence and abuses.

An Arab League advisory body called for the immediate withdrawal of Arab monitors from Syria, where eight more people were reported killed today, saying their mission was allowing Damascus to cover up unabated violence and abuses.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces, keen to prevent huge public protests under the monitors' eyes, have killed at least 286 people since the mission began on December 23rd, according to local coordination committees who tally casualties.

Some of today's eight deaths occurred when security forces fired on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Daria, they said.

The observer mission has already stirred controversy for its lack of numbers and comments by its Sudanese leader, General Mohammed al-Dabi, suggesting he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centres of unrest.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-member advisory committee of delegates from each of the League's member states, said the violence was continuing to claim many victims.

"For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission," the organisation's chairman, Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, said. "This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League.”

The monitors are supposed to check Syria's compliance with an Arab League plan that calls for a verifiable withdrawal of troops and heavy weaponry from towns and cities, the release of thousands of detainees and a dialogue with opposition groups.

Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby had said it should take only a week to see if Dr Assad was keeping his word. "The presence of monitors has not affected the behaviour of the regime with hundreds killed and no let-up," said Rima Fleihan, from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

The Arab Parliament was the first body to recommend freezing Syria's League membership in protest at the bloodshed.

Arab monitors visiting Deraa, a southern town viewed as the cradle of the nine-month-old revolt, went to the home of Sheikh Ahmad Hayasneh, elderly imam of the Omari mosque where the first big protests against Dr Assad's 11 years in power erupted in March.

It was unclear if the monitors met Hayasneh, who residents say has been under house arrest for at least five months for his role in the movement to rid Syria of decades of Baathist rule.

Activists say they have little faith in the Arab mission, which is still short of its planned strength of 150 members, who must observe events across the country of 23 million people.

It relies for transport on state security escorts who some protesters say have prevented access to the demonstrators.

"The team has been escorted with the governor and there is no way for anyone other than security personnel to get anywhere near them," said Ibrahim Aba Zaid, an activist from Deraa.

Syria's state news agency Sana said there had been "massive demonstrations" throughout Syria on Friday in support of Dr 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.