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22 Jan, 2012 06:50

Arab League extends Syria mission

The Arab League has approved extending the fact-finding mission in Syria for another month, reports the Associated Press citing official sources.

The number of observers will be boosted and they will receive training from the UN, said officials, on condition of anonymity. The initial mission, which expired on Thursday, consisted of 165 monitors.Still, Saudi Arabia is willing to withdraw its monitors from Syria since Damascus has failed to put an end to the ten months of bloodshed, reports Reuters. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal has called for "all possible pressure" to be put on Syria in order to push it to adhere to the Arab League’s peace plan.The Arab League's meeting in Cairo comes against a backdrop of harsh criticism from opposition groups, which say the observer mission has failed to curb bloodshed.In the latest flare-up, at least 14 people are reported to have been killed in a roadside bomb attack on a van carrying prisoners in the north-west of the country.RT's Sara Firth joined the observers as they visited Zabadani, a town near the Syrian capital Damascus, now largely controlled by opposition forces.Despite the expiry of the League’s mandate, its observers continue to travel around Syria to monitor the situation. Some see this as further evidence that the LAS mission is set to continue here, possibly for another month. An Arab League observer unofficially told RT that this is very likely.Zabadani is considered to be under the control of so-called Free Syrian Army. In the past few days, a temporary ceasefire has been proclaimed between rebels and government forces, and the city does seem to be divided between the two sides of the conflict, RT’s correspondent confirms. On the other hand, locals say, there is a lot of confusion about what is really going on, who is in charge, and who is killing who.Read more about RT’s trip to Zabadani in Sara Firth’s blogThe Arab League’s decision to extend the observer mission in Syria may reflect a wish to draw time till Qatar, which currently chairs the 22-member organization, passes the presidency onto Iraq, says Alastair Crooke, an EU Middle East ex-mediator and the director of the Conflicts Forum in Beirut.“Qatar has been strongly arguing to take Syria to the UN Security Council. But the Arab League is skeptical of the value of doing this,” Crooke told RT. “Their decision on the mission has a strategic import. By March the presidency of the Arab League passes to Iraq, which has a very different view of what is happening in Syria from that of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”