Middle East

Arab monitors restricted, targeted in Syria: UAE

Arab League monitors walk through the Al-Sabil area of Daraa, Syria on Jan. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

ABU DHABI: Arab League monitors in Syria to oversee a halt to a violent crackdown on protesters have been targeted by "non-opposition" elements and are not allowed to move around freely, the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister said on Tuesday.

A team of observers arrived in Syria last month to verify whether the government is implementing a plan to scale back its military presence and free thousands of prisoners detained since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began last March.

Earlier on Tuesday, an Arab League official said 11 members of a team of monitors were injured when their vehicles were attacked by protesters in the Syrian port city of Latakia this week, although the incident had not disrupted operations.

Video footage on the Internet appeared to show a crowd of pro-Assad demonstrators in Latakia surrounding and climbing onto the white vehicles used by monitors.

"There is no doubt that the task of the monitors is getting more difficult every day because we do not see a decline in acts of killings," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan told reporters in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

"We do not have any commitment from the Syrian side to allow monitors to move around in a way that lets them do their duties ... Unfortunately, there have been attacks on monitors, especially from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, attacks from non-opposition elements," he added.

Syria's foreign ministry issued a statement saying it continued to provide security to the monitors and condemned any act that obstructs their work.

Two of the injured monitors were from the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, according to the country's state news agency KUNA, which said the group also included UAE nationals. KUNA blamed "unidentified demonstrators" for the attack.

"I believe these are not positive indicators. But I would like to leave this issue to my colleagues at the Arab League," added Sheikh Abdullah.

Gulf countries, particularly Qatar, have played an active role within the Arab League in criticizing Syria's response to the unrest and pushing for the dispatch of monitors.

In his first public address since last June, Assad made scathing remarks about the League, which suspended Syria's membership in November, but said he would not "close the door" to any Arab proposal that respected its sovereignty and unity.





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