Arab League observers urged to stay in Syria


The Arab League is likely to extend the organisation's observer mission in Syria, despite complaints from the Syrian opposition that it has failed to curb bloodshed in the country, two League officials said yesterday.

The pan-Arab body is set to discuss the future of the one-month mission – whose mandate expired on Thursday – at a meeting in Cairo tomorrow.

Ahead of the gathering, two senior officials said discussions were leaning toward keeping the 150-member mission in place because the time is not right for "escalation" and the international community is not yet ready to intervene further. The officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, added that several League members opposed to the extension had changed their position in recent days.

Arab countries and the West have so far failed to reach any consensus on how to counter a crackdown by the regime which, along with other violence, has left an estimated 5,400 people dead over the past 10 months.

Activists say the Arab observers have failed to curb the bloodshed. Many in the Syrian opposition have called for the dispatch of foreign troops to Syria to create safe zones for dissidents. Yesterday, thousands of regime opponents protested in Damascus, some of them calling for the withdrawal of the observers. "Arab League, your hands are now soiled with the blood of Syrians," said one banner.

One of the largest demonstrations yesterday was in the mountain town of Zabadani, where about 12,000 people took to the streets to celebrate their success in repelling government troops.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces attacked Zabadani, 17 miles west of the capital, for six days, sparking fierce fighting that involved heavy bombardments and clashes with army defectors. On Wednesday, government tanks and armoured vehicles pulled back, leaving the opposition in control of the town.