Arab League Considers Extending Syria Mission

Foreign ministers will meet on Sunday in Cairo to discuss keeping observers in Syria for another month; opposition forces take control of town outside Damascus.

Arab League foreign ministers will consider extending the organization's observer mission in Syria next week, officials said Thursday.

The one-month mission expired Thursday, but Adnan al-Khudeir, head of the Cairo operations room that handles reports by the monitors, told The Associated Press that observers will remain in Syria until a decision is made at a meeting on Sunday in Cairo.

Arab League montiors in Syria - AFP - Jan 2012

Another Arab League official said the mission could be extended for another month.
Rejecting charges that the observers have been ineffective in reducing violence, he said extending the mission would help the opposition more than the regime.

"The mission's presence offers assurance to the people because the observers can spot any violations. There is a conviction even among Syria opponents that the extension is better than withdrawal," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decision had been made.

The mission has been mired in controversy, with the opposition claiming it has served as a cover for the regime to continue its brutal crackdown against protesters.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that the observers' mission might not last indefinitely under the current circumstances.

"Despite the best efforts of the Arab League, despite the considerable risks that they've put their monitors to, it has not succeeded in getting the Assad regime to meet its commitments," she told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Syrian government tanks and armored vehicles have pulled back from an embattled mountain town near Damascus, activists and witnesses said Thursday.

The pullback from the town of Zabadani left it under the control of the opposition, activists said. The besieged town had witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days.

Syrian officials issued no comment about the fighting in Zabadani.

In Damascus, a Syrian security agent was wounded when a small explosive device tore through his car in the Tadamon neighborhood, a Syrian official said. No other damages were reported from the morning explosion, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements.

Over time, the uprising has become increasingly militarized and chaotic, with opponents of the regime and army defectors arming themselves and fighting back against government forces. The capital has seen three suicide bombings since late December, which the government has blamed on terrorist extremists.