Syria ready to let monitors stay, rebel commander calls for help from UN
Damascus opposes broadening the scope of the Arab League observer mission, the source at the League said, but would accept a one-month extension of its mandate which expires on Thursday.
Shaam News Network via APTN/AP
Syria¬†is ready to let Arab monitors extend their mission beyond this week, an Arab source said on Tuesday, but a rebel army chief said they should go as they had failed to curb a crackdown on protesters seeking President¬†Bashar al-Assad's overthrow.
However, Riad al-Asaad, the Turkish-based commander of the rebel¬†Free Syrian Army, called for international intervention to replace the observer team which is monitoring¬†Syria's implementation of a League plan to end 10 months of bloodshed.
U.N. officials say more than 5,000 people have been killed in the violence across¬†Syria¬†and the government says 2,000 members of its security forces have died.
The¬†Arab League¬†must decide whether to withdraw its 165 monitors or keep them in¬†Syria, even though they are expected to report that¬†Damascus¬†has not fully implemented a peace plan agreed on Nov. 2. Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss the team's future on Jan. 22.
"The outcome of the contacts that have taken place over the past week between the¬†Arab Leagueand¬†Syria¬†have affirmed that¬†Syria¬†will not reject the renewal of the Arab monitoring mission for another month ... if the Arab foreign ministers call for this at the coming meeting," the source said.
The Arab plan required¬†Syria¬†to halt the bloodshed, withdraw troops from cities, free detainees, provide access for the monitors and the media and open talks with opposition forces.
Rebel commander Asaad opposed any extension of the mandate.
"The¬†Arab League¬†and their monitors failed in their mission and though we respect and appreciate our Arab brothers for their efforts, we think they are incapable of improving conditions in¬†Syria¬†or resisting this regime," he told Reuters.
"For that reason we call on them to turn the issue over to the U.N.¬†Security Council¬†and we ask that the international community intervene because they are more capable of protecting Syrians at this stage than our Arab brothers," Asaad said.
Syria¬†would agree to an increase in the number of monitors, he said, but would not allow them to be given formal fact-finding duties or be allowed into "military zones" that are not included in the existing Arab peace plan.
Any change in the scope of the mission, whether to militarise it or let it investigate human rights abuses and potentially assign blame, would require a new agreement with¬†Syria, the source said.
Qatar¬†has proposed sending in Arab troops, a bold idea for the often sluggish League and one likely to be resisted by Arab rulers close to Assad and those worried about unrest at home.
Syria's¬†foreign ministry¬†said on Tuesday it was "astonished" at¬†Qatar's suggestion, which it "absolutely rejected".
AN OLD ALLY
The League could ask the U.N.¬†Security Council¬†to act, but until now opposition from¬†Russia¬†andChina¬†has prevented the world body from even criticising¬†Syria, an old ally of¬†Moscow.
Western diplomats said a Russian draft resolution handed to the council on Monday did not make clear if¬†Moscow¬†would accept tough language demanded by the West.
French Deputy¬†Foreign Ministry¬†spokesman¬†Romain Nadal¬†described¬†Moscow's latest draft as disappointing, saying¬†Paris¬†had proposed constructive amendments to the Russian text.
"After a month of silence a new text has just been submitted by¬†Russia, which still falls far short of responding to the reality in¬†Syria," he said. "We've been saying this for months now: the¬†Security Council's silence is scandalous."
Few Western powers favour any Libyan-style military action in¬†Syria, which lies in the heart of the conflict-prone Middle East. Bordering¬†Lebanon,¬†Turkey,¬†Jordan,¬†Iraq¬†and¬†Israel, it is allied to Iran and the armed Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group.
Iran condemned what it called foreign interference in the affairs of its closest Arab ally,¬†Syria, and praised reforms President Assad has promised as "problem-solving".
"We are fundamentally against interfering in the affairs of other countries. We think it does not solve the problems but will only make them more complicated,"¬†Foreign Ministry¬†spokesman¬†Ramin Mehmanparast¬†told a news conference.
Assad, while offering reform, has vowed to crush his opponents with an "iron fist", but Syrians braving bullets and torture chambers appear equally determined to add him to the list of the past year's toppled Arab leaders.
Army deserters and other rebels have taken up arms against security forces dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, pushing Sunni Muslim-majority¬†Syria¬†closer to civil war.
ROCKETS AND TANK FIRE
Syria's state news agency¬†SANA¬†reported on Tuesday that what it called terrorists had fired rockets, killing an officer and five of his men at a rural checkpoint near¬†Damascus. Seven others were wounded in the incident, a day after gunmen assassinated a brigadier general near the capital.
Eight people were killed when a bomb hit a minibus on the¬†Aleppo-Idlib road, the¬†Syrian Observatory¬†for Human Rights said.
In¬†Homs, tank fire crashed into the¬†Khalidiya¬†district after a night rally against Assad there, activists said. YouTube footage showed a crowd dancing at the rally and waving the old Syrian flag used before the¬†Baath Party¬†seized power in 1963.
The¬†British-based Observatory¬†said eight people were killed in violence in¬†Homs, a flashpoint city of one million racked by unrest, crackdowns and Sunni-Alawite sectarian killings.
Activists also reported fighting between rebels and troops trying to edge into¬†Khalidiya, a neighbourhood that is home to Sunni tribesmen and lies next to the Alawite district of Nozha.
Tanks were firing sporadically at the rebel-held town of¬†Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, which has been under attack since Friday, activists said. They added that several soldiers who had tried to defect to the opposition had been killed.
Syrian forces shot dead a man at a roadblock in the restive¬†Damascus¬†suburb of Qatana, they said, and an activist was killed by sniper fire in the northwestern town of¬†Khan Sheikhoun.
The¬†United States, the¬†European Union,¬†Turkey¬†and the Arab League have announced sanctions against¬†Syria, but while these have hurt its economy, they have yet to prompt Assad to change course. Opposition to sanctions from some of¬†Syria's trading partners, notably¬†Lebanon¬†and¬†Iraq, also dilutes their impact.
Security Council¬†members have been divided for months over the uprising against Assad, with Western countries pushing for strong condemnation of the government's bloody crackdown butRussia¬†seeking to shield¬†Damascus.
In October,¬†Russia¬†and¬†China¬†vetoed a European-drafted resolution that threatened possible sanctions.¬†Russia¬†presented its own draft on Dec. 15 and Western countries agreed to discuss and negotiate it, but there has been little progress since then. (Additional reporting by Ayman Samir in Cairo, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, and Mariam Karouny and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by David Stamp)