Speaking in Cairo on January 1, Arab League chief Nabil El Araby said snipers and gunfire remain a threat in Syrian cities despite the presence of League monitors. Speaking at the League's headquarters, El Araby called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria. He said Syria's military has withdrawn from inside cities, but snipers are still killing people and making it difficult to distinguish who is shooting whom.
The Arab League, which brings together 22 mostly-Muslim countries, has sent monitors to Syria to check on its compliance with a League plan for peace after a nine-month crackdown on anti-government protests. The plan requires the Syrian government to remove security forces and heavy weapons from the streets, start talks with the opposition, free political prisoners and allow monitors into the country.
The Arab League chief said 70 monitors are in six Syrian cities, with 30 more monitors joining them soon. He said the monitors have secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners in Syria so far. Al Arabi says that his organization and its observers' presence have helped residents in conflict zones secure food. His comments came as criticisms continue over the League's monitoring mission, which critics say has provided only cosmetic improvements to a ten-month conflict that the United Nations estimates has taken more 5,000 lives. As of now, dictator Bashr Assad's armored vehicles and artillery have retreated.
Some critics are on the ground in Syria, which continues to be embroiled in a nine-month old revolt that threatens to unseat the decades-old Assad regime. "The Arab League has fallen victim to the regime’s typical traps, in which observers have no choice but to witness regime-staged events, and move about the country only with the full knowledge of the regime," said a statement by the Local Coordinating Committees, an umbrella group of activists in Syria. "This has rendered the observers unable to work or move independently or in a neutral manner," the group said.
Activists in Syria say that in the week since the observers started their work in Syria on Dec. 27, at least 150 or perhaps hundreds have been slain. The LCC put the death toll at more than 390 people since Dec. 21.
In response, Arab League chief El Araby said, "Yes, there is still shooting and yes there are still snipers," regarding deaths of protesters in the presence of Arab League observers. "Yes, killings continue. The objective is for us to wake up in the morning and hear that no one is killed. The mission’s philosophy is to protect civilians, so if one is killed, then our mission is incomplete." "There must be a complete cease-fire," El Araby said.
On December 31, the Arab Parliament, an advisory body of the Arab League, said the observers are failing to prevent government troops from killing civilians, including children.
The group's speaker, Ali al-Salem al-Dekbasi, said the monitors should pull out immediately, given the ongoing violence. The 88-member parliament operates separately from the Arab League, and its recommendations are nonbinding.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have died in Syria's violence since March during a crackdown on protests inspired by the Arab Spring democracy movement. The government of President Bashar al-Assad claims armed terrorists are driving the revolt.
Syrian authorities, under increasing international pressure, agreed last month to allow the Arab League monitoring mission freedom of movement throughout most of the country except for military sites.