Arab monitors set to remain in Syria


Arab states, divided over how to handle the crisis in Syria, are likely to extend a peace mission there which critics say is handing president Bashar al-Assad more time to kill opponents of his rule.

Arab foreign ministers were gathering in Cairo today to debate the findings of the month-long monitoring mission, whose mandate expired on Thursday, and must decide whether to extend, withdraw or strengthen it.

Some want to crank up pressure on Dr Assad to end a 10-month-old crackdown on a popular revolt in which, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 people have died.

Others worry that weakening Dr Assad could tip Syria, with its potent mix of religious and ethnic allegiances, into a deeper conflict that would destabilise the entire region, and some may fear the threat from their own populations if he were toppled.

The head of the monitoring effort, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, was in the Egyptian capital to present his report to ministers, who were due to meet after a gathering of the Arab League's Syria committee.

Hundreds of people have been killed during the monitoring mission, sent to assess Syria's implementation of the Arab plan, which was originally agreed in early November.Syrian opposition activists said Dr Assad's forces killed 35 civilians yesterday and 30 unidentified corpses were found at a hospital in Idlib.

The state news agency SANA said bombs killed at least 14 prisoners and two security personnel in a security vehicle in Idlib province.

On Saturday, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) formally asked the Arab League to refer the Syrian crisis to the United Nations Security Council."We think that when the Arab League refers the case to the United Nations and to the Security Council the situation will change," SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said in Cairo.