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Arab League Completes Initial Stage Of Syria Mission


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Arab League monitors sent to Syria completed the initial stage of their mission. The group was assessing a plan for Syria to withdraw its army from city streets and end the violent crackdown on protesters.

The Arab League meets this weekend to review the monitors' report and determine what to do next. In a moment, we'll hear more about that from NPR's Peter Kenyon.

CORNISH: First, the Arab League's mission in Syria has been controversial. Earlier today, we reached a former observer who quit and left Syria last week. He's an Algerian writer, based in Paris, named Anwar Malek. And he told us what he saw in the city of Homs.

ANWAR MALEK: (Through Translator) The signs of blood on the walls, on the ground. On every street there are signs of blood that show there have been a lot of people killed and wounded. The humanitarian situation is totally disastrous - no electricity, no water, no food, no medicine.

CORNISH: Malek says he and other monitors were threatened by Syrian authorities, and he's critical of the Arab League as well.

MALEK: (Through Translator) I refuse to be part of this charade that is full of lies. This was nonstop; the tanks were shelling, people were getting jailed. It's all lies and lies and more lies. The regime was lying to us. I realize the Arab League is actually in bed with the Syrian regime on this. They did not want to make it work.

CORNISH: NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following the situation in Syria. He joins us now.

Peter, do we know if the other Arab League monitors agree with Anwar Malek?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: We don't know that, Audie. And they're not making public statements, and nor is that their job. I mean, Anwar Malek only spoke after quitting the mission. And yet, to be fair, the monitors are in a difficult position. They've been coming under steady criticism from opposition activists for failing to stem the violence of pro-regime forces against demonstrators. And, of course, that's not their mission.

They were assigned to monitor Syria's compliance with an Arab League plan. The plan calls for an end to shooting and the withdrawal of Syrian security forces; some forces have pulled back, others have not. The violence certainly has continued by all accounts.

The monitors, in any case, have neither the authority nor the capacity to stop what they're witnessing. The question now is what will they report to their superiors and how will that we treat their observations? What were hearing at the moment - and this won't happen for a couple of days yet - but we're hearing that the league is prepared to deliver a fairly cautious report that won't come down to harshly on the regime, perhaps may speak to levels of violence on both sides.

And this is a reflection of the fact that they're caught in between the activists, which includes a now free Syrian army, which is made up of defectors which is shooting back - sometimes in defense, sometimes on attack - and the regime itself which says it's fighting armed gangs. So they're really caught in between the violence that they can't control. And it's possible that the Arab League report will reflect that.

CORNISH: And is it likely that the Arab League observers will remain in Syria?

KENYON: Well, that is one of the big questions. The opposition activists have been saying - some of them have been saying - no, they should leave. They're not doing anything except providing cover for the regime. And yet you have to ask the question: If not these Arab League monitors than what.

CORNISH: And, Peter, lastly, what's at stake for the Arab League here? This is the first mission of its kind for them.

KENYON: Well, it is new ground. You're absolutely right. And these monitors, to be fair to them, have not had any practice doing this. There has been talk of training from the U.N. In terms of the Arab League's image and its reputation, just the fact that they're in there is a rather big step forward.

They have been known for years as a group that thrives on consensus and really doesn't take too many chances. So, they're in kind of an uncharted territory and where they go from here will be very interesting.

CORNISH: NPR's Peter Kenyon, thanks for speaking with us.

KENYON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.