The Arab League chief said on Monday that snipers remain a threat to civilian lives in Syria and called for the shootings to end, as activists heaped criticism on the bloc’s observer mission.
But Nabil al-Arabi defended the monitors in his first remarks since they were deployed in Syria a week ago, saying the “mission needs more time.” ”There are still snipers and gunfire. There must be a total halt to the gunfire,” Arabi said, even as monitors strive to stem the persistent bloodshed.
The issue would be raised with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, he told reporters in Cairo, “because the aim is to stop the shooting and protect civilians.” But “it is difficult to say who is firing on whom,” Arabi added.
After weeks of stalling, Syria agreed last month to allow the deployment of observers as part of an Arab roadmap calling for the withdrawal of the military from cities and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The mission has been mired in controversy since a first team of 50 observers arrived on December 26, with activists and commentators saying Syrian authorities were keeping the monitors on a short leash and critical of the choice of a former top Sudanese military commander to head the operation.
On Sunday, the Arab Parliament, an advisory body of the 22-member Arab League, intensified the pressure saying the monitors should be immediately withdrawn having failed to halt the government’s crackdown on dissent. But Arabi stressed the League would not back down from the mission and would be sending more observers soon. ”We have 70 observers in six cities who carried out 26 missions (so far). Thirty more monitors will join them within days,” Arabi said.