Arab League told to pull its monitors out of Syria

Anger mounts as killings continue under the noses of inspectors sent to impose peace plan

Jerusalem

An advisory body to the Arab League yesterday demanded that the organisation withdraw its monitors from Syria, saying they are being used by the regime as a "cover" for continuing its abuses.

The Arab Parliament said the 100-strong group of observers, in the country to ensure President Bashar al-Assad sticks to an agreed peace plan and stops the bloodshed, should leave "immediately". The Kuwaiti head of the 88-member parliament, Ali Salem al-Deqbasi, said: "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.

"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."

The mission entered the country last week after weeks of prevarication by the Syrian government, which eventually gave way to head off the prospect of tougher sanctions. But the mission's presence has failed to prevent scores of civilian deaths in the past week.

"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 Parliament's chairman Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas said. "This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions."

Meanwhile, two of Syria's nascent opposition factions have set aside their differences to unite around a road map for a transition to democracy should the embattled Assad regime fall following months of pro-democracy protests that have left an estimated 5,000 dead.

The move by the Syrian National Council (SNC), an exile group formed in Istanbul in September, and the Syria-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, marks the first serious attempt to bridge divides within the fragmented opposition to challenge President Assad, who has overseen a brutal crackdown against dissenters to his rule. The two opposition groups reportedly signed the deal on Friday.

The Syrian authorities have consistently portrayed the uprising as a foreign-backed insurrection by "terrorist armed gangs" and claim more than 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed. With expectations low that the monitors, whose numbers will be expanded in the coming days, will be successful in holding the regime to account, opposition factions appear to have sidestepped major differences in putting forward their transition plan.

The deal rules out any foreign intervention "that harms the sovereignty or stability of the country", although Arab League intervention is not considered foreign. It also envisions a one-year transitional period, during which Syria would adopt a new constitution that would lay the foundations for a "democratic, pluralistic civil state".

The agreement, which will be put to other opposition factions, is significant in that it commits the SNC to dropping calls for a Libya-style intervention, one of the main stumbling blocks preventing a broader opposition alliance. But it remains unclear to what extent the deal will win support from rank-and-file members of both groups amid complaints that they were not consulted.

Voices of dissent: the leaders

Burhan Ghalioun, SNC chairman

A political scientist and Paris-based professor, Ghalioun is seen by some as a consensus figure with the potential to draw together the fragmented opposition movement.

Hassan Abdul-Azim, NCC chairman

A critic of the Assad government, Abdul-Azim was the only leading opposition figure to be arrested earlier this year. He was later freed.

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