New York: Algeria's foreign minister said on Wednesday Syria's government had taken steps to defuse the crisis in the country and that it was the taking up of arms by the opposition that threatened wider violence.
The comments by Mourad Medelci at a UN news conference highlighted differences among Arab states over the 10-month-old anti-government uprising in Syria, which an Arab League monitoring mission is currently investigating.
"The government has taken some steps. Perhaps not enough, but some steps in the sense that there has been a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the cities that are having problems now," Medelci said.
"There has been a release of a few thousand prisoners, but there are many more not yet released. And there has been an opening up of the media. Although this opening is not complete, it is real."
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria. Medelci said the shooting was coming from both sides, and that the opposition had prevented the Arab League mission from reaching neighbourhoods it controlled.
"The feeling is that the government of Syria is in the process of making more of an effort, but the Arab League is especially having problems with the armed opposition," he said.
The minister said he did not believe Syria was currently in a civil war and that violence was confined to a few cities.
But, he said, "If the opposition continues to arm itself then there will be a risk that could place us in a position where there is broader violence."
Some other Arab officials have taken a different view. Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani has said Syria has not implemented the terms of a peace deal it agreed with the Arab League.
An Algerian member of the Arab mission, Anwar Malek, said this week he had left it in disgust, calling its work a "farce" and accusing Syrian authorities of war crimes.
But Medelci said Malek belonged to a non-governmental organisation and that "other Algerians might have different opinions”. He said there were 10 Algerian government officials in the 165-strong Arab team in Syria.
The mission is due to present a detailed report to the Arab League next week. A senior Western diplomat on the UN Security Council said he expected that the report would "not be very clear" because of differences among Arab states.
"I would be surprised if the Arab League is going to say that it has failed and that they are going to the Security Council," he said, identifying Algeria, Iraq and Egypt as countries likely to oppose a referral to the council.
Western powers say Russia, a long-standing ally of Damascus, has blocked any tough moves by the council against Damascus and only a direct appeal by the league could shift Moscow's view.
First Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012, 15:33