Skip to main content

Killings persist in Syria as Arab League arrives for mission

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy
updated 4:24 PM EST, Thu December 22, 2011
Arab League officials meeting earlier this month, have put pressure on Syria to accept an observer mission.
Arab League officials meeting earlier this month, have put pressure on Syria to accept an observer mission.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 38 people were killed Thursday, activists said
  • The Arab League is hoping to get observers into Syria by next week
  • Violence has surged in Syria ahead of the Arab League's arrival
  • An Arab doctors group will assess hospitals and document injuries

Cairo (CNN) -- More violence erupted in Syria as an Arab League advance team arrived in the country Thursday to plan for an observer mission, part of a larger effort to stop the bloodshed.

At least 38 people were killed Thursday, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist network -- 25, in Homs alone.

A surge of violence earlier this week claimed about 250 lives in a 48-hour period, the opposition Syrian National Council said.

More than 5,000 people have died so far in Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on peaceful protests that began in March 2011.

The government blames armed terrorist groups for the violence and says 2,000 of its soldiers and security forces have been killed in the crisis, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said.

Much of the recent violence this week occurred in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border. The Turkish government in Ankara, which has been a staunch critic of the Bashar al-Assad regime, ratcheted up its rhetoric Thursday, saying the country is awash in "bloodshed" despite the Arab League's peace efforts.

Mohmed Hamdo, a lieutenant colonel in the rebel Free Syrian Army, said bombing is still ongoing in Jabal al Zawiya, in the northwest.

"Hundreds of women and children are sleeping in the open in the mountains after their homes have been destroyed. We have sent in some blankets and food supplies but the situation is terrible. (The) Syrian army has been deployed in big numbers around Jisr Al Shujur, they may be preparing to storm the town," he said.

One grisly video showed disfigured and bloodied corpses from Jabal al Zawiya.

CNN could not independently verify the allegations of violence or other incidents because Syria restricts the activity of journalists in the country.

Turkey's foreign ministry said Thursday that Ankara "condemns (the) Syrian administration's oppressive policies, which target ... its own people."

Turkey, the Arab League, the United States and the European Union have initiated sanctions on the regime.

The observer mission is part of an Arab League initiative that calls for withdrawing the Syrian army and militias called shabiha from towns, releasing detainees and ending all forms of violence. Syria and the Arab League signed the protocol for the observer mission on Monday.

A source inside the Arab League told CNN that the team will meet with Syrian officials and prepare for the observers to travel to Syria by Monday or Tuesday.

A meeting is scheduled Monday in Cairo where the Arab League is headquartered, with members of the observatory mission to discuss details of the operation, said Ibrahim Zafarani of the Arab Doctors Association. Zafarani said he and two Qatari doctors will be traveling to Syria.

"Our mission will be to assess the hospitals and their capabilities to take on patients, document the type of injuries, evaluate hospital staff and the medical assistance and supplies required for the hospitals, especially in the hotspot areas," he said.

Observers also will consist of Arab nongovernmental organizations and human rights activists from different countries. Alaa Shalaby, the secretary-general of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, is one observer, and he will be accompanying the advance team.

The advance team is headed by Wajir Hanafi and Samir Al-Yazal, two top Arab League officials. The head of the observer mission is a Sudanese military official, Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa Al-Dabi. The Sudan News Agency said his rank is lieutenant general and he has worked as a coordinator between the Sudanese government, the United Nations, and African Union forces in Darfur, a region long beset by warfare.

Opposition members have criticized the choice of Al-Dabi. They cite close ties between Sudan and Syria and Sudan's track record of using its own national security officials to target activists and political groups.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT