Bloomberg News

Syrian Army Leaves Cities, Snipers Keep Up Fire, League Says

January 03, 2012

(Updates with activist comment in third paragraph.)

Jan. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The Syrian government has withdrawn its military from cities since the arrival of Arab League monitors, though snipers remain a threat, said Nabil el-Arabi, the bloc’s secretary-general.

“The accomplishments of the delegation include the withdrawal of all military, such as tanks, from cities and residential areas, as well as the access of food items to Syrian populations and the retrieval of corpses,” el-Arabi said in televised remarks from Cairo today. “Yes, there is still gunfire, yes, there are still snipers, and we wish for all these aspects to end.”

Seven people were killed today in the central province of Homs, Idlib in northern Syria and the outskirts of Damascus, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview today. An average of 35 people have died every day since the mission started touring Syria last week, said Merei and Mustafa Hamitoglu, a member of the main opposition alliance, the Syrian National Council.

President Bashar al-Assad started pulling out his forces from restive cities on Dec. 26 and demonstrations swelled as 50 observers from the Arab League started their inspections. The Syrian government still keeps armored troops outside urban areas, according to activists and opposition members.

‘Better’ Situation

The 88-member Arab Parliament, set up by the Arab League, yesterday urged the league to recall the observers because Assad’s government continues to kill protesters. Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who leads the delegation to Syria, will arrive in Cairo by the end of this week to deliver the mission’s first report, el-Arabi said today.

“The situation as a whole is better since the delegation’s arrival,” Merei said. “We only hope for the killing to stop.”

More than 5,000 people have died since the unrest started in mid-March, according to the United Nations. Assad has blamed the violence on foreign provocateurs and his forces have used tanks, armored vehicles and artillery to crush the uprising.

Syria agreed Dec. 19 to let the Arab League monitor its compliance with a protocol to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow demonstrations. In exchange, the bloc dropped plans to submit a proposal to the UN Security Council.

‘Trying to Win Time’

There are monitors in six cities and the delegation succeeded in persuading authorities to release 3,484 prisoners, el-Arabi said. More observers are expected in Cairo this week before they are deployed to Syria, the Arab League said in an e- mailed statement.

“The government isn’t doing justice to the protocol,” Hamitoglu said today in a telephone interview from Istanbul. “All its forces were supposed to be withdrawn from cities, yet they’re still in surrounding areas. Tens of thousands of people are still imprisoned for political reasons. And they were supposed to allow protests. If all these happened, it would speed up the regime’s downfall. Assad is aware of this and is trying to win time.”

--Editors: Ben Holland, Louis Meixler.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait at dkholaif@bloomberg.net; To contact the editor responsible f Emre Peker at epeker2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Louis Meixler at lmeixler@bloomberg.net.


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