Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Syrian rebel leader threatens to escalate attacks

The commander of Syria's armed rebels threatened on Tuesday to step up attacks on 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, told Reuters in an interview.
The Arab League said on Monday its monitors in Syria were helping to stem bloodshed, 10 months into a popular uprising against Syria's longtime ruling family, and asked for more time to do their job.
But 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 has been killed.
Eighteen security force personnel were killed in the southern town of Deraa as dozens of deserting soldiers returned fire on a police station that 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, among a series of Arab uprisings that have toppled four leaders in a year.
Rebel leader 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 president's 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 said in an interview on TV news channel i>tele.
Activists who met the monitors in Hama on Tuesday said they doubted the monitors had freedom of movement.
Mohammed Abul-Khair told Reuters he was among activists that met monitors without security escorts present, handing them details of detainees and suspected detention centers. The monitors said they had found it hard to meet activists until now, but appeared sympathetic, Abul-Khair said.
Others said the team seemed unprepared or unwilling, arguing that they had set up an office in a government-controlled area hard for activists to reach and complaining that many observers who visited them did not bring cameras or notepads.
"I don't think they are sympathetic, I think they are afraid," said activist Abu Faisal, also present at the meeting. "We wanted to take them to one of the narrow alleys where there had been a lot of shelling. They wouldn't go past the buildings where there were snipers.
"People here are getting shot. They are here to get the facts but they are cowards and too afraid to do it," he said.
Juppe said he was confident about the Arab League's determination, but the United Nations could not stand idly by as more people died. Russia has continued to block decisive U.N. action on the issue, he said.
"The (U.N.) Security Council cannot remain silent," he said. "The savage repression is totally clear, the regime has no real future and that's why it's up to the international community to speak out."
More than 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on dissent, according to a United Nations estimate.
Armed rebellion has begun to overshadow what began as peaceful protests as rebels fight back. Damascus says it is battling foreign-backed "terrorists" who have killed at(...)More.

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