Advisory group head calls for withdrawal of observers from Syria

A protester in the flahspoint Syrian city of Homs throws a tear gas bomb back to security forces on December 27, 2011.

Story highlights

  • At least 10 people are killed on Sunday, an activist group says
  • The Arab League says the fact-finding mission is going "according to plan"
  • Observers provide a "cover" for the Syria regime, the head of an advisory group says
  • State media reports that 21 troops killed "by armed terrorist groups" are laid to rest

The head of an advisory board to the Arab League called Sunday for the withdrawal of observers from Syria, claiming the mission has allowed Syrian officials to continue a brutal crackdown on protesters.

"What is happening allows the Syrian regime a cover for the exercise of its inhumane practices under the Arab League's watch," Ali Salem al-Deqbasi said in a statement, according to Egypt's state-run MENA news agency. Al-Deqbasi heads the Arab Parliament, an advisory board to the Cairo-based Arab League.

The statement said abuse and killing of civilians have continued as Arab League monitors visit Syria, and requested a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers to address the issue.

An Arab League official said in a statement Sunday that the observers' field work was going "according to plan," noting that only the organization's official governing council has the authority to stop the fact-finding mission.

Additional observers are scheduled to head to Syria this week to join efforts to determine whether the Syrian government is abiding by an agreement to end its crackdown on demonstrators, said Adnan al-Khodeir, head of the Arab League's operations team in charge of the observers' mission.

As the fact-finding mission continued Sunday, at least 10 people were killed in Syria, according to an opposition activist group.

Three people died in Hama, four were killed in Homs, two were killed in the Damascus suburb of Daraya and one was killed in Idlib, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. The organization said a child was among its tally of "martyrs," but did not provide additional information.

    Since Arab League monitors entered Syria, the LCC said Sunday that it had documented the deaths of 315 people, including 24 children.

    Meanwhile, the state-run Syrian Arab News agency said Sunday that the bodies of 21 troops "killed in the line of duty by armed terrorist groups" were taken from military hospitals to their final resting places.

    CNN cannot independently verify accounts of violence or reports of deaths and injuries in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad's government has restricted access by international journalists.

    In mid-March, al-Assad began a crackdown on anti-government protesters calling for his ouster. The Syrian government has repeatedly blamed "armed terrorist groups" for violence during the uprising.

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    The LCC, which has a network of contacts across Syria, said that more than 5,800 people were killed in 2011 during the crackdown on opposition protests.

    A number of amateur videos posted online have surfaced purporting to show Arab League observers since the group arrived in Syria last week. One video posted Friday purported to show residents of the southwestern city of Daraa telling a monitor about a man who they said had been a victim of torture. Another video purported to show that same monitor saying he had witnessed snipers firing in the city, which has been a flashpoint for clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.

    On Sunday, the head of the Arab League monitors' mission said observers had not seen sniper attacks.

    "We are monitoring the alleged presence of snipers on buildings, but (there is) no evidence of that yet," said Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi.

    Protesters turned out Saturday for anti-regime rallies in restive cities, including Homs, Idlib and Hama, activists said.

    On Friday, two major Syrian opposition groups forged a deal that charts a course for democracy if al-Assad's regime crumbles -- a move which analysts said signals maturation and strengthening of the anti-regime forces.

    After talks that lasted for more than a month, representatives of the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria signed an agreement late Friday in Cairo for a transition in a post-Assad era, the NCB said on its Facebook page.

    The agreement was scheduled to be filed with the Arab League on Sunday, the NCB said.

    Opposition groups hope to end the al-Assad regime's push against demonstrators and its efforts to maintain power across the country.

    The Arab League, the United States, the European Union and Turkey have condemned the government crackdown and initiated sanctions. But Russia and China have stood in the way of a strong U.N. Security Council resolution toward the Syrian government.

    Earlier this month, al-Assad agreed to a peace initiative with the Arab League that calls for security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees and end violence. Part of the agreement calls for Arab League observers to monitor whether the government abides by the initiative.