Thu, Jan 05, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Syrian rebel leader threatens escalation

WASTE OF TIME:The Arab League monitoring group failed to live up to expectations of stopping the crackdown as scores of civilians were killed right under their noses

Reuters, Beirut

The commander of Syria’s armed rebels has threatened to step up attacks on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, saying he was frustrated with Arab League monitors’ lack of progress in ending a government crackdown on protests.

“If we feel they [the monitors] are still not serious in a few days, or at most within a week, we will take a decision which will surprise the regime and the whole world,” the head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Colonel Riad al-Asaad, said in an interview.

The Arab League said on Monday its monitors were helping to stem bloodshed, 10 months into a popular uprising against Syria’s ruling family, and asked for more time to do their job.

However, since the team’s arrival last week, security forces have killed more than 132 people, according to a Reuters tally. Other activist groups say 390 have been killed.

Eighteen security force personnel were killed in the southern town of Deraa as dozens of deserting soldiers returned fire on police who shot at them as they fled their posts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Security forces also opened fire and killed two people at a protest in the central city of Hama, the same day that activists met monitors and said the team seemed powerless to help them.

The monitors are checking whether Syria is implementing an Arab League peace plan by pulling troops from flashpoint cities and releasing thousands detained in the revolt, one of a series of Arab uprisings that have toppled four leaders in a year.

Al-Asaad, whose FSA is an umbrella group of armed factions, said he was waiting for the League’s report on its first week before deciding whether to make a “transformative shift” that he said would mark a major escalation against the security forces.

“Since they [the monitors] entered, we had many more martyrs,” he said, speaking by telephone from his safe haven in southern Turkey. “Is it in the Syrian people’s interest to allow the massacre to continue?”

A committee of Arab ministers will discuss the monitors’ preliminary report on Saturday, Arab League sources said.

The League mission has already been plagued by controversy. Protesters have complained about its small size and were appalled when the head of the mission suggested he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centers of unrest.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday it was crucial that monitors were able to act independently. Protesters have complained that security forces regularly accompany monitors, making them difficult to approach.

“Do they truly have genuinely free access to information? We are waiting for the report they will produce in the coming days for more clarity,” Juppe told a French news channel.

The US Department of State said that violence against the protesters had not stopped, adding that it was concerned by reports that soldiers were donning police uniform to mask their actions.

“In some cases, the regime is actually putting out its own false reports that monitors are on the way, demonstrators come into the streets, and then they fire on them,” spokeswoman -Victoria -Nuland said. “The Syrian regime has not lived up to the full spectrum of commitments that it made to the Arab League when it accepted its proposal some nine weeks ago.”

Activists who met the monitors in Hama on Tuesday said they doubted whether the monitors had freedom of movement.

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