Arab League mulls extending Syria mission

SYRIA – Arab League foreign ministers were due to decide yesterday whether to extend their controversial monitoring mission in Syria, amid continuing violence. The ministers were expected to convene and discuss a report by the mission’s head in Cairo, Egypt, the BBC said.

The 165-strong mission expired on Thursday with no sign of a halt to the government’s crackdown on protesters. The observers have been criticised for failing to stop the violence, but analysts say the league is expected to renew the mission for another month.

According to Voice of America, the Arab bloc was expected to extend its 165-person mission and increase its size. Head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, was in Cairo Saturday for meeting with Arab League officials.  He said if the report from the observers is not objective, his group will reject it. The U.S. Secretary of State called her Egyptian counterpart Saturday. The State Department said Hillary Clinton “compared notes” with Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr about the developments in Syria in advance of the Arab League meeting.

Qatar has previously suggested sending Arab peacekeepers to Syria, but Damascus has firmly rejected the idea. Meanwhile the opposition Syrian National Council presented the league with a formal request to refer the crisis to the UN Security Council. Last week, the head of the Arab League’s Cairo operations room, Adnan al-Khudeir, said the observers would remain in 17 difference places around Syria until the final decision is made. So far there has been no suggestion from Damascus that the monitors should be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels said that army deserters had briefly taken control of much of the Damascus suburb of Douma on Saturday night after fierce fighting with the security services. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out after security services shot dead four civilians at a funeral service, the BBC said.

In a separate development, at least 14 people died after a van carrying prisoners was blown up on a road in north-west Syria on Saturday, reports say. Opposition groups confirmed the attack but did not say who carried it out.

The UN says that more than 5,000 have died since protests against President Bashar al-Assad erupted last March. The government in Damascus says that some 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed combating “armed gangs and terrorists”.

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