Arab League says Syria must protect monitors
CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League condemned on Tuesday an attack this week by protesters on monitors in the Syrian port city of Latakia and said the Syrian government had failed in its commitment to provide protection.
Eleven monitors, who are part of a mission to assess whether Damascus is ending a violent crackdown on protests in line with an Arab League peace plan, were wounded lightly Monday, a League official said.
"Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments," the League said in a statement.
The 165-strong mission has come in for criticism from both the Syrian government and opposition groups seeking to end President Bashar al-Assad's control over a country his family has ruled for four decades.
The League said in its statement that the mission was attacked by pro-Assad demonstrators in Latakia and Der el-Zor cities and by opposition protesters in other areas.
According to a source at the mission's operations room in Cairo, angry protesters in Latakia broke the glass of the monitors' vehicles, causing light injuries, although no one was admitted to hospital.
"The monitors were thumped and beaten, which resulted in one monitor's mouth bleeding and bruises to the faces of four others," the source told Reuters.
Assad's critics say the monitoring mission has failed to halt the violence and simply hands the authorities more time to attack the population.
Syria said it was committed to cooperating with the Arab League monitors.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told the head of the monitoring mission that Syria "will continue to bear its responsibility to secure and protect those monitors," a foreign ministry statement said.
Moualem said Syria would "not allow any act to obstruct their mission," according to the statement, and expressed his "condemnation of any act that the team has been exposed to which obstructs their mission."
The Arab League said Sunday that Syria had only partly kept its agreement to stop violence, withdraw troops from cities, free political prisoners, provide foreign media access to the country and open a dialogue with its opponents.
The League decided Sunday to expand the mission and keep it going at least until it reports back again on January 19.
"The League stresses its determination that the delegation continue its field mission in a safe atmosphere for its members so it is not forced to freeze operations in case it senses their lives are in danger," the League said.
"The League also refuses any pressure or provocation from any party - government or opposition - or any attempt to deter the mission from performing its duty or hindering its work," it added.
(Reporting by Tamim Elyan; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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