Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Syria Agrees to Allow Outside Observers, but Activists Remain Wary




December 19, 2011

Syria Agrees to Allow Outside Observers, but Activists Remain Wary


CAIRO — The Syrian government, bowing to international pressure to end its violent crackdown on protests, signed an Arab League initiative on Monday that would send outside observers to the country within days.

President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents quickly dismissed the move as a ploy, saying that the government would find ways to thwart the observers.

The agreement calls on the Syrian government to remove its forces and heavy weaponry from restive cities and to open a dialogue with opposition groups. Syria had agreed to the proposal, but had resisted signing it. It did so after both Russia, its close ally, and the Arab League threatened to bring Syria before the United Nations Security Council.

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, called the signing “the beginning of cooperation between us and the Arab League.”

“We are keen on ending the current situation as soon as possible,” he said, speaking to reporters in Damascus on Monday.

The developments came as Syrian opposition groups and rights activists reported that dozens of people had been killed on Monday in new violence across the country. The dead included nine people in the northern province of Idlib, near the Turkish border, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of opposition organizations.

The daily death tolls, which are sometimes accompanied by videos of killings, cannot be independently confirmed. Journalists and human rights workers have been barred from moving freely around Syria, and it remains to be seen whether the observers will be able to verify the conflict’s toll, or to alter its increasingly violent trajectory.

Among the government’s opponents, doubts run deep about Syria’s willingness to comply with the spirit of the Arab League agreement. “They will try to block it or foil it by all means,” said Louay Hussein, a journalist and longtime government opponent in Damascus. “They will try, for instance, to restrict the observers’ movements in some areas under the pretext of their safety.”

Thousands of people have been killed in the government’s violent repression of the popular uprising, which erupted nine months ago. As army defectors and armed fighters have joined opponents of the government, revenge killings and sectarian violence have raised fears of a full-blown civil war.

The signing of the Arab League initiative on Monday, at the group’s headquarters in Cairo, came amid increasing opposition anger at the league’s reluctance to impose economic sanctions it had promised weeks ago.

Speaking in Cairo on Monday, the Arab League’s secretary general, Nabil al-Araby, said that an advance team would travel to Syria within a day or two and that the observers would work in teams of about 10, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Moallem said that the observers, who would be drawn from Arab countries, would be “free” to move as they wanted “under the protection” of the state, adding that the government would inform the observers about the safety of certain areas. The observers would be able to visit “hot spots” but not military sites, he said. Their mission would last a month but could be renewed, he added.

The foreign minister suggested that the observers’ presence would vindicate the Syrian government’s assertion that the uprising was the work of armed gangs and not peaceful protesters.

“A lot of countries around the world do not want to admit that there are groups of armed terrorists,” Mr. Moallem said. “They will come to see that there are.”

Syrian activists countered that the Arab League mission would finally give them a chance to dispel that notion. “The observers will see that we are unarmed and peaceful protesters who want live in a free and democratic state,” said Ammar, a protester from Douma, north of Damascus.

“We are demonstrating for nine months, and will keep demonstrating for another month, to let our Arab brothers and the world see how peaceful our uprising is,” he said.

Also on Monday, Mr. Assad’s government released Razan Ghazzawi, a prominent blogger and antigovernment activist who was arrested on Dec. 4 on her way to Jordan. Ms. Ghazzawi, who has documented human rights abuses by the government on her blog, Razaniyyat, faces up to 15 years in prison on charges that include spreading false information and weakening the sentiment of nationalism.

On Monday night, Ms. Ghazzawi wrote on her Twitter feed about her detention. “Psychological torture has been the worst,” she wrote. “They make you believe that your friends betrayed you.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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