The Arab League chief said on Monday that snipers remain a threat to civilian lives in Syria and called for the shootings to end, as activists heaped criticism on the bloc’s observer mission.
However, Nabil al-Arabi defended the monitors in his first remarks since they were deployed in Syria a week ago, saying the “mission needs more time.”
“There are still snipers and -gunfire. There must be a total halt to the gunfire,” Arabi said, even as monitors strive to stem the persistent bloodshed.
The issue would be raised with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he told reporters in Cairo, “because the aim is to stop the shooting and protect civilians.”
However, “it is difficult to say who is firing on whom,” Arabi said.
On the ground, 11 more civilians were killed by security force gunfire on Monday, while mutinous soldiers attacked three positions of the regular army, a watchdog and activists said.
After weeks of stalling, Syria agreed last month to allow the deployment of observers as part of an Arab roadmap calling for the withdrawal of the military from cities and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The mission has been mired in controversy since a first team of 50 observers arrived on Dec. 26, with activists and commentators saying Syrian authorities were keeping the monitors on a short leash and critical of the choice of a former top Sudanese military commander to head the operation.
On Sunday, the Arab Parliament, an advisory body of the 22-member Arab League, intensified the pressure, saying the monitors should be immediately withdrawn having failed to halt the government’s crackdown on dissent.
“We are seeing an increase in violence, more people are being killed, including children ... and all this in the presence of Arab League monitors, which has angered the Arab people,” said the body’s speaker, Salem al-Diqbassi.
He urged Arabi to “immediately pull out the Arab observers, considering the continued killing of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime.”