Arab League urged to withdraw monitors from Syria
DAMASCUS - An Arab League advisory body called on Sunday for the immediate withdrawal of the bloc's observers from Syria saying their presence was having no effect on the government's deadly crackdown on protests.
The call came as the League prepared to send yet more monitors to Syria, after pro-democracy protesters saw the New Year in with demonstrations and a child reportedly became the first fatality of 2012.
The speaker of the Arab Parliament, Salem al-Diqbassi, urged Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi to "immediately pull out the Arab observers, considering the continued killing of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime."
The Arab Parliament is an 88-member advisory committee made up of lawmakers from each of the League's 22 member nations.
Damascus's actions are "a clear violation of the Arab League protocol which is to protect the Syrian people," Diqbassi said in a statement.
"We are seeing an increase in violence, more people are being killed including children ... and all this in the presence of Arab League monitors, which has angered the Arab people," he said.
Diqbassi's comments came as the League prepares to send a new team to Syria on Thursday.
"Around 20 more observers will head to Damascus from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Tunisia," said Adnan al-Khodeir, the League's Syria operations chief.
Fifty observers arrived on Monday as part of an Arab deal endorsed by Syria, which calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The monitors are on a month-long mission that kicked off December 26.
Arab League monitors toured several protest hot spots on Sunday, official media said, as a dispute emerged after one observer reportedly accused authorities of posting snipers on rooftops and demanded they be removed.
On Sunday, a seven-year-old boy was killed in the central city of Hama when his father's car came under a hail of bullets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The first victim of 2012," the Britain-based watchdog said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.
Four other civilians were killed by security force gunfire in the flashpoint province of Homs, further south, two of them by pro-government militiamen.
In Damascus province, more than 20 demonstrators were wounded when security forces fired on them when they raised the independence flag in the town of Dariya.
Activists have accused the regime of posting snipers on rooftops, and that issue appears to have triggered a dispute among the observers.
In a video released by the Observatory, a man wearing an orange vest with the Arab League logo said in Daraa: "There are snipers; we have seen them with our own eyes.
"We ask the authorities to remove them immediately; if they don't remove them within 24 hours, there will be other measures," the unnamed speaker in the video, which was dated Friday, told a crowd of people.
But veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who heads the observer mission, said the official seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark.
"This man said that if he saw -- by his own eyes -- those snipers he will report immediately," Dabi told the BBC's Newshour programme. "But he didn't see" any.
Dabi is a controversial figure because he served under Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organise protests on the ground, said the "youths of the revolution held huge and simultaneous protests overnight to welcome the New Year."
Protesters took to the streets in Daraa, Idlib and Aleppo, in the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishli and in Zabadani near Damascus, the LCC said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.
YouTube videos circulating on the Internet showed protesters across Syria welcoming 2012 in with fireworks and holding up signs pledging "Freedom for Life" and denouncing President Bashar al-Assad as the enemy.
A YouTube video shot in Zabadani near Damascus, shows hundreds of people dancing around a Christmas tree and chanting: "The people demand the ouster of the assassin."
In Daraa, cradle of more than nine months of anti-regime protests, revellers held up banners saying Syria would fare better without Assad and pro-regime militias accused of brutal attacks on demonstrators.
On Sunday, dozens of protesters demonstrated in the Idlib village of Al-Tah, according to a video circulated by the Observatory which also showed signs with messages critical of the Arab League observer mission.
"The watchers are with Bashar. They don't say the truth," said one message in English.
Another sign read: "God is the only observer"
According to the LCC, a total of 5,862 people were killed in the regime's crackdown last year, including "321 male children, 74 female children and 146 women."
United Nations estimates in early December put the death toll at more than 5,000.