BEIRUT — Syrian security forces are still killing anti-government protesters despite the presence of foreign monitors in the country, the head of the Arab League said Monday. But he insisted the observer mission has yielded important concessions from the Damascus regime, such as the withdrawal of heavy weapons from cities.
Syria's opposition cautioned the observers not to be taken in by President Bashar Assad's government, which has unleashed a withering military assault to crush a 9-month-old uprising. Opposition groups have been deeply critical of the mission, saying it is simply giving Assad cover for his crackdown.
"The Arab League has fallen victim to the regime's typical traps, in which observers have no choice but to witness regime-staged events, and move about the country only with the full knowledge of the regime," said a statement by the Local Coordinating Committees, an umbrella group of activists.
"This has rendered the observers unable to work or move independently or in a neutral manner," the group said.
The U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in mid-March. Activists say that in the week since the observers started their work in Syria on Dec. 27, hundreds have been slain. The LCC put the death toll at more than 390 people since Dec. 21.
"Yes, there is still shooting and yes there are still snipers," Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference in Cairo.
"Yes, killings continue. The objective is for us to wake up in the morning and hear that no one is killed. The mission's philosophy is to protect civilians, so if one is killed, then our mission is incomplete."