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Leaked Documents Detail Arab League’s Chaotic Monitoring Mission In Syria

The head of the Arab League and the prime minister of Qatar called on the U.N. Security Council today to take action against the dramatic increase in violence around Damascus and endorse an Arab League peace plan to facilitate Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s handover of power. But while the League sought Security council support for their peace plan, new documents gives insights into the disorganized and chaotic Arab League monitoring mission which was suspended two days ago.

Arab League monitors in Syria experienced shortages of equipment and severe restrictions in movement imposed by the Syrian government according to a confidential account [PDF] of the mission acquired by ForeignPolicy.com’s Colum Lynch today.

The document shows that “many of the 166 Arab observers parachuted into Syria on Dec. 24 to document the widening violence were utterly incapable of enduring the rigors of life in a country roiled by social upheaval and conflict…” writes Lynch.

Despite the grim picture painted in the document, Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Moustafa Al-Dabbi, the chief of the Arab League monitoring mission and the author of the document, warned that “Any termination of the work of the mission after this short term will undermine the positive results — even if incomplete — that have been achieved so far.”

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The leaked report mainly focuses on the logistical problems faced by the mission, the Arab League’s first major attempt at a monitoring mission, but a recommendation within the report that Arab governments not give up their mediating role to U.N. Security Council sparked a strong reaction from European diplomats. They argue the Arab League mission had no business making such a self-interested assertion while Russian officials say the Security Council should review the League’s full account of the mission, reports Lynch.

Lynch reports that European diplomats have also taken issue with the report’s omission of key details in the death of a French television journalist. Al-Dabbi writes that “reports of the mission already indicate that the French journalist died, and a Belgian reporter injured, as a result of mortar attacks fired by the opposition,” but a European official told ForeignPolicy.com’s Turtle Bay blog that the report didn’t include testimony from other reporters who reported that the French journalist was “exposed to enemy fire deliberately” by pro-government supporters.