Arab League observer says violence prevails in Syria mission


Arab League observer says violence prevails in Syria mission

A former Arab League observer sent to monitor an end to government violence against democracy protesters said that Syrian officials tried to intimidate him and his colleagues and that only military aid to the rebels will end the conflict.
“I don’t think sanctions are having any kind of results. They don’t care,” Anwar Malek said of Syrian government officials he says were dismissive of sanctions. “Right now, the country is poised for ultimate civil war.”

Rather than rely on sanctions, the U.S. and other countries should arm Syrian rebel forces to stop the kinds of slayings he witnessed, Malek said.

The Algerian-born author, 40, spoke from his home in Paris, where he is writing a book about his three weeks as an observer. Syrian authorities put hidden cameras in his hotel bathroom, and he has received death threats, he said.

Homs residents he spoke to “are asking for foreign intervention from the United States and other nations,” he said.

The Arab League sent observers to Syria in December to oversee an agreement by Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw his military from rebellious towns, stop killing protesters and release political prisoners. On Sunday, the emir of Qatar became the first Arab head of state to call for military intervention in Syria, saying Arab troops should be sent in.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said the United States supports a “peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy.” When asked what more the U.S. should do to remove Assad, he said the Obama administration is “encouraging the international community to support those seeking change.”

Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch said 33 children have been killed and 511 people have been detained since the arrival of the Arab League observers. Security forces have opened fire on protesters trying to enter towns where the observers were, and witnesses said detainees were transferred from jails to military facilities to avoid the observers, Houry said.

Malek said his Syrian experience was punctuated by government violence. When he arrived in Baba Amer, a neighborhood in the rebellious city of Homs, “I found houses destroyed and wounded children, a catastrophic situation,” he said. “I personally saw civil authorities kill a 5-year-old child named Ahmad Mohamed Arahi.”

Malek said the observers’ chauffeurs were supposed to be civilians but were military officers who took observers who were to witness protests to the wrong neighborhood and would say “there is no protest here.”

“We were constantly surrounded,” he said. “There were even women in the hotel who’d strike up conversations with the observers, but they were there to observe us.”

Malek resigned from the mission because he believed it was being misled. That’s when his Syrian handlers “showed me a picture of myself in the bathroom, without clothes, to prove they were controlling everything,” he said.

Since returning to France, he said, he has received anonymous calls saying “my throat will be slashed in a few days.”

Houry said the Arab League stakes its credibility on the upcoming report: “They have to convince the rest of the world and the Arab world that this (observer mission) is not just a strategy to win time for the Syrian government.”


USATODAY 18/01/2012


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