Syria accuses US of interfering in Arab League affairs

Arab League mission is facing mounting criticism

DAMASCUS - Syria accused the United States on Wednesday of interfering in Arab League affairs, as a US envoy travelled to Cairo for talks with the bloc about ending the Damascus regime's crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, democracy activists have denounced the 22-member Arab bloc over the "unprofessionalism" of a team of peace observers whose presence in Syria has failed to stem the bloodshed.
"The United States is one of the parties which is seeking to rekindle violence by its mobilisation and incitement (to violence)," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said in a statement.
"The US... statements are a gross interference in the work of the Arab League and an unjustified attempt to internationalise" the issue.
League observers have been in Syria since last week trying to assess the regime's implementation of a peace agreement aimed at ending the deadly violence.
The US State Department said on Tuesday that Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, would travel to Egypt for consultations with the Arab League about Syria.
Feltman was due in Cairo later on Wednesday and is scheduled to hold discussions with the Arab League on Thursday.
His trip was announced as the White House said it is "past time" for the UN Security Council to act, as "sniper fire, torture and murder" were continuing in Syria and the Arab League conditions for the regime have been dishonoured.
"We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Despite the presence of the monitors, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has acknowledged that "there are still snipers" in Syria, but defended the mission for securing prisoner releases and removing tanks from the streets.
The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since March.
There were no signs of the violence abating on Wednesday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting the deaths of 10 more civilians.
The Britain-based group said four civilians were killed by gunfire on Wednesday, and another four died of bullet wounds in the besieged central city of Homs.
A political detainee also died after spending two months in prison, and the bodies of six people were returned to their relatives, the observatory said.
Syrian officials were not immediately available to comment on the claims.
Another civilian was reportedly killed in Hama, north of Homs, where Arab League monitors were sent.
The observers were also touring the flashpoints of Dael in southern Daraa province and Harasta near Damascus, state television reported.
Activists urged them instead to go to Sabaa Bahrat, in central Damascus, where they had planned an anti-regime demonstration.
"We invite the Arab League observers to act responsibly and protect the peaceful demonstrators. Our rights are being violated and we will struggle to recover them," they said on Facebook.
But instead of an opposition protest, hundreds of regime supporters gathered in the same square carrying Syrian flags and chanting slogans in support of President Bashar al-Assad, a correspondent reported.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which organise opposition protests, said the security forces had closed all the roads to the square, while public transport from the suburbs to the city centre had been withdrawn.
The LCC estimate that at least 390 people have been killed since the first League observers arrived on December 26.
Syria's anti-regime forces have been hampered by their inability to present a united front, despite repeated calls by Western governments for them to set aside differences and join forces in their bid to oust Assad.
A pact agreed on Friday by two main opposition factions -- the Syrian National Council (SNC) and National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) -- now appears to be in tatters.
The political agreement signed in Cairo had outlined a "transitional period" should Assad's regime be toppled by the pro-democracy uprising.
However, in a Facebook posting, the SNC said late on Tuesday the "document conflicts with the SNC's political programme and with the demands of the Syrian revolution."
Widely regarded as the most inclusive of Syria's opposition alliances, with representation from both the Muslim Brotherhood and parties drawn from the Christian and Kurdish minorities, the SNC has been at odds with some activists over the extent of foreign intervention required to bring change.
There was still no response to the statement from the NCB, an umbrella group of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents that staunchly opposes any foreign military intervention.
A dissident who spoke on condition of anonymity deplored "divisions" within opposition ranks, also lamenting that the international community had so far "refrained from mobilising its efforts to bring down the regime."