Highly criticised Arab League mission in Syria to get UN training

Arab observers with UN guidelines

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations said Monday that it would start training Arab League observers monitoring the deadly crackdown in Syria within days.
A formal request for help has been made by the Arab League and the UN has agreed to start the training in Cairo after League foreign ministers meet this weekend, a UN spokeswoman, Vannina Maestracci, said.
The training is to be carried out by staff of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Maestracci said.
"At the request of the League of Arab States, the OHCHR has agreed to train observers and will deploy to Cairo to do this training," she said.
A report by the observer mission is to be handed over to Arab League ministers on Thursday and the ministers will meet on Saturday in Cairo to decide the future of the mission.
Maestracci said the training had been scheduled to start earlier but was delayed at the request of the Arab League until after the ministerial meeting.
The UN said in early January that it was ready to help the observer mission, which has faced widespread criticism from the Syrian opposition, but that it was waiting for a request from the Arab League.
The spokeswoman was unable to say how many observers would be trained or how many UN experts would be involved.
Meanwhile, Syrian army defectors urged the UN Security Council to take control of the crisis from an Arab League peace mission it says has failed to halt the regime's deadly crackdown on dissent.
The Syrian Free Army, based in Turkey, called on the 22-member Arab League to "quickly transfer the case of Syria to the UN Security Council," in a statement signed by its leader Riyadh al-Asaad, a dissident colonel.
Even though, the United Nations has pledged to assist the Arab mission deployed in Syria since last month, the defector force is seeking much bolder action from the world body and urged the international community to "act quickly against the regime through Chapter 7 of the UN charter to maintain peace," in its statement.
The Security Council's robust Chapter 7 provision allows for UN-backed forces to initiate military action, not simply respond when attacked.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday said "the situation in Syria has reached an unacceptable point," and called on the Security Council to respond to the deteriorating situation with "seriousness and gravity and in a coherent manner."
But tough action by the council has been repeatedly blocked by Damascus allies China and Russia, who vetoed a Western draft UN resolution in October that would have condemned Assad's regime.
Russia, which has accused the West of eyeing Libya-style regime change in Damascus, on Monday distributed its second draft resolution that blames both sides for the crisis and opposes strong UN action, Western diplomats said.
Leading Western powers have so far ruled out military intervention like that waged against Moamer Gathafi's regime.
The SFA's call for bold UN action comes amid signs of stronger coordination between the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group, said it had opened a liaison office and hotline with the SFA to follow political developments on the ground.
The SFA claims to have gathered some 40,000 fighters under its command since an anti-regime revolt broke out in Syria in mid-March. The crackdown on dissent has since cost more than 5,000 lives, the United Nations estimates.
A media adviser to a top Syrian army defector, General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, said last week that a special council is being set up to oversee all military operations.
Assad's regime was also hit on Monday by the defection of a leading MP who announced he was going into exile, along with an opposition figure who heads Syria's largest tribe.
"I have come to Turkey to activate the opposition. The Syrian revolution is our path," Al-Baqqara tribal chief Nawaf al-Bashir told Al-Arabiya television.
MP Imad Ghaliun, a member of parliament's budget committee, told the same network he had chosen Egypt as a base to try to help achieve "freedom and dignity" for the people in a future democratic Syria.
Iran, locked in an intensifying standoff with the West over its nuclear programme, on Tuesday denied an allegation from France that it was sending weapons to its ally Syria in violation of a UN embargo.
"The declarations from French officials are incorrect," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in a regular weekly briefing.
"Unfortunately we often see political positions by officials from some European countries, this time by France, that are baseless and not backed by proof," he said.
France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran has repeatedly violated a UN arms embargo by exporting weapons to Syria, which is roiled by internal strife.
Senior US officials said on Friday that Iran was supplying munitions to aid Syria's crackdown in an initiative spearheaded by the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Quds force, Qasem Soleimani.
Iran is forbidden to import or export weapons or ammunition under the terms of UN Security Council resolutions dating from 2007 and 2010.