Syrian rebels halt operations, seek to meet observers

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This still image taken from video off a social media website uploaded 28 December 2011, shows purported members of "Free Syrian Army" (military defectors) firing at a convoy of government security buses in the village of Dael, near Daraa. (Photo: REUTERS - via Reuters Tv - Handout)

Published Friday, December 30, 2011

Syrian army defectors have halted offensive operations against the Syrian regime in a bid to meet Arab League monitors, the rebels' leader said on Friday.

Colonel Riad al-Asaad of the Free Syrian Army said his forces had so far been unable to talk to the monitors, in the first week of their month-long mission, and he was still trying to contact them urgently.

"I issued an order to stop all operations from the day the committee entered Syria last Friday. All operations against the regime are to be stopped except in a situation of self defense," he said.

"We have tried to communicate with them and we requested a meeting with the team. So far there hasn't been any success. We haven't been given any of the (phone) numbers for the monitors, which we have requested. No one has contacted us either."

Arab observers are in the country to oversee the implementation of an Arab initiative designed to end the nine-month-old violence that has so far claimed at least 5,000 lives, according to the UN.

Part of the agreement, endorsed by Damascus, is for Syrian forces to withdraw from flashpoint cities and cease its deadly crackdown on protesters.

Opposition groups allege violence is still ongoing despite the presence of Arab monitors, rebuking remarks made in Homs by the observers' head Mustafa Dabi that the situation was "reassuring."

Activists have called for the Arab plan to be transferred to the UN Security Council after growing skepticism on the Arab League's ability to enforce the initiative and compel Damascus to comply to its protocol.

The choice of veteran Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi aroused suspicion amongst opposition activists, as the general is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur.

Suspicion turned into outright opposition to his mission after Dabi stated he saw "nothing frightening" in Homs only a day after activists claimed Syrian tanks and armored vehicles intensified its crackdown in the city.

Russia, a key ally to Syrian President Bashar Assad, has nevertheless endorsed Dabi's assessment of the Syrian crisis.

"Judging by the public statements made by the chief of the mission M. Dabi, who in the first of his visits went to the city of Homs ... the situation seems to be reassuring," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Russia has sternly opposed Western and Gulf Arab moves to isolate the Assad regime, fearing a Libya-repeat.

Moscow, along with China, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria in October, but tabled a new resolution a fortnight ago criticizing both the Syrian regime and armed opposition rebels.

France, a vocal supporter of Syria's opposition, declared the Russian move to equate the two belligerents unacceptable, arguing Syrian regime crimes far outweigh those committed by armed rebels.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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