The Star Late Edition

Peace monitors claim to be making a difference on the ground in Syria


BEIRUT: The head of the Arab League has said its peace monitors are helping to ease a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria, and urged President Bashar alAssad’s government to carry out a peace plan in full.

Meanwhile, army defectors whose armed insurgency has threatened to overshadow the peaceful popular uprising, captured dozens of members of security forces by seizing two checkpoint­s yesterday.

Army defectors clashed with security forces at a third checkpoint, killing and wounding troops loyal to Assad.

Assad is struggling to avoid becoming the latest leader to be toppled by “Arab Spring” revolution­s, after those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

After nearly 10 months of violence in which the UN says more than 5 000 people have been killed, mostly unarmed civilians, an Arab League monitoring mission has spent the past week assessing Assad’s compliance with a peace plan.

Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby said yesterday that Syria’s military had now withdrawn from residentia­l areas and was on the outskirts of the cities, but gunfire continued and snipers were still a threat.

The league’s plan calls for Assad to pull troops and tanks from the streets, free detainees and talk to his opponents.

Elaraby said monitors had secured the release of 3 484 prisoners and succeeded in getting food supplies into Homs. “Give the monitoring mission the chance to prove its presence on the ground,” he said.

But many Syrian opposition activists are sceptical that the mission can put real pressure on Assad to halt the violence.

On Sunday, the Arab Parliament, an 88-member committee of delegates from each of the league’s member states, called for the monitors to leave Syria, saying their mission was providing cover for unabated violence and government abuses.

The British-based Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said two people had been killed by gunfire in Homs yesterday and the bodies of another two had been handed over to their families. Security forces had killed a farmer in Douma, on the north-eastern edge of Damascus, as they carried out raids searching for suspects wanted by authoritie­s, it said.

Kinan Shami, a member of the Syrian Revolution Co-ordinating Union activists’ group, said from Damascus that people were taking huge risks by gathering in cities where Arab League monitors were expected, in the hope of talking to them.

The reported attacks on military checkpoint­s came three days after the anti-government Free Syrian Army said it had ordered its fighters to stop offensive operations while it tried to arrange a meeting with Arab League delegates. – Reuters

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