12/22/2011, 00.00
SYRIA
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Arab League mission to Damascus raises doubts

Assad was able to get the protocol changed. Now 150 League observers will be accompanied by soldiers and submit regular reports to the Syrian government. Opposition calls for UN intervention. About 250 people are killed in the last two days.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – The first group of Arab League observers is due to arrive in Damascus today to end the violence that began in March. Initially resisted by the Syrian government, now the mission is criticised by Syria’s opposition as a “ploy” by the authorities to conceal their misdeeds.

Since the Arab spring broke out, people have taken to the streets in Syria demanding reform or the removal of the Assad regime. In the past few months, Syrian authorities, both political and military, have responded very harshly to the challenge. According to the United Nations, at least 5,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the violence.

First proposed on 2 November, the Arab League mission originally entailed the deployment of some 500 observers. Its purpose was to end months of violent unrest, obtain the release of prisoners and monitor the withdrawal of troops from urban areas. However, Damascus has been able to get some important concessions that could jeopardise the mission’s original goals.

According to the protocol, the number of observers has been reduced to 150 and will be up to full strength by 25 December.

In principle, observers can go anywhere, collect data, and hear witnesses. However, for “security reasons”, they will be accompanied by Syrian soldiers at all time. It will thus be harder for them to listen freely to witnesses. Observers are also required to “submit regular reports on their work to the Syrian government and the Arab League.”

Syria’s opposition has criticised the mission and protocol. They want observers to submit their report to the United Nations.

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of opposition factions, reported that 250 people were killed in the past two days. It also demands an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

Human rights group connected to the opposition said that the death toll has now reached 6,000. The government in Damascus has countered, saying that the number of casualties is much lower and that most of the dead are soldiers killed by criminals and armed gangs.
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