The crisis in Syria is approaching a turning point. The mandate of the Arab League observer mission officially expired Thursday, and this weekend Arab League foreign ministers will consider its fate.
By most accounts, the mission has been a failure. Some observers have called it a “farce.” The 165 monitors were supposed to stop the attacks on opponents of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the crackdown on dissent has continued since the mission started in December, and there are reports Thursday of 20 more protestors killed by the regime.
The BBC’s Lina Sinjab in Damascus tells The World’s Marco Werman that the Syrian regime has been critical of the monitors “since day one.”
“They’ve even attacked them on several occasions in several cities. And they are not happy with what they are doing,” says Sinjab.
But opponents of Assad’s regime say the observer team has given the Syrian regime diplomatic cover for an assault on activists.
Amid the continuing violence, the emir of Qatar has suggested sending Arab troops to Syria. Syria’s government has rejected the the proposal, and Sinjab says it is a non-starter for many Syrians.
“They feel … sending Arab forces into towns …. is going to destablize the country,” says Sinjab. “The government officially said they cannot protect any Arab forces, and that they will be killed.”
Some analysts warn of the possible unintended consequences of foreign military intervention.
Sinjab says the opposition hasn’t entirely abandoned the idea of an observer mission as a way of exerting pressure on the regime. She says they want the mission to be bigger, and have a broader mandate.
“On a larger scale, with real freedom for them to move around and no restrictions, it could help (Syrians) go out in bigger numbers in the streets,” Sinjab says.
Sinjab traveled Thursday to the southern province of Deraa. She says, “the streets are almost empty . Families have been looking at us from windows, not daring to come down to us and talk to us. But still we managed to find some defiant young people including children who called us into their own street to tell us their own stories of violence, their own stories of martyrs who have been killed by security forces.”
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman. This is The World. More clashes and more deaths today in Syria. This time, one of the reported casualties is an army general said to have been killed by dissident soldiers in Hama. The bloodshed comes just as the Arab League is reviewing its observer mission in Syria. The observers were supposed to be in the country to monitor the implementation of a peace plan. Instead, the Syrian government and its opponents continue their daily battle. The BBC’s Lina Sinjab is in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Earlier today, she traveled to the southern province of Deraa where opponents of the regime have been under attack.
Lina Sinjab: The streets are almost empty. Families have been looking at us from windows, not daring to come down to us and talk to us. But still we managed to find some defiant young people including children who called us into their own street to tell us their own stories of violence, their own stories of martyrs who have been killed by security forces and explained their agonies to us. Definitely, there is a great sense of tension.
Werman: Now, the Arab League is supposed to discuss Sunday whether or not to extend the mission in Syria. What are the Syrians saying about the Arab League observer mission?
Sinjab: Well, they are splitting views here between supporters of President Assad and opponents. Definitely, the supporters have been even critical of the Arab League mission since day 1. They’ve even attacked them on several occasions, in several cities. They are not happy with what they are doing and they feel that any intervention or any decision made by the Arab League, especially the suggestion of sending Arab forces into town is going to destabilize the country. The government officially said that they cannot protect any Arab forces and that they would be killed in town. However, the opposition feels that the reports from the Arab League could make more pressure on the regime that would help them in their cause.
Werman: The US State Department is saying that the mission of the Arab League has not succeeded and might not last indefinitely under the current circumstances. What are Syrian expectations now for Washington and the West?
Sinjab: Another view from the opposition, as well, they feel with the presence of an Arab League mission, but on a larger scale, will be real freedom for them to move around and no restrictions; it could help them go out in bigger numbers into the streets. In fact, during the Arab League’s presence in Syria, the opposition group calculated, in some days, up to about 500 points of demonstration across the country which is the largest points of demonstrations that happened since the start of the uprising in March last year. So, there is a sense that they might help them in gathering more momentum of their peaceful protests but not very much in achieving their cause in toppling down the regime.
Werman: The BBC’s Lina Sinjab speaking with us from Damascus.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.