Beirut: Arab League head Nabil Elaraby said on Friday he feared a possible civil war in Syria that could have consequences for neighboring countries, as the credibility of the League`s monitoring mission was hit by members starting to walk out.
An Algerian former monitor said several monitors had left Syria or might do so soon because the mission had failed to halt President Bashar al-Assad`s violent crackdown on a popular revolt against his rule.
"Yes I fear a civil war and the events that we see and hear about now could lead to a civil war," said Elaraby, whose body deployed the monitors on December 26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan.
"Any problems in Syria will have consequences for the neighboring states," he said in an interview with the Egyptian Al-Hayat television channel.
He described reports from the mission head as "worrying," but said there was "no doubt that the pace of killing has fallen with the presence of the observers."
Syrian opposition groups say the monitors, due to present their findings to the Arab League`s foreign ministers on January 19-20, have only bought Assad more time to crush protests that erupted in March, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.
"(The ministers) will decide whether there is any benefit in continuing or not," said Elaraby.
The monitors resumed work on Thursday, a League official said, for the first time since 11 were injured by pro-Assad demonstrators in the port of Latakia three days previously, an attack that also sidelined plans to expand the team.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian who quit the monitoring team this week, said many of his former colleagues shared his chagrin.
"I cannot specify a number, but many. When you talk to them their anger is clear," he told Reuters by telephone, adding that many could not leave because of orders from their governments.
He said a Moroccan legal specialist, an aid worker from Djibouti and an Egyptian had also left the mission.
Their departures could not immediately be confirmed. But another monitor, who asked not to be named, told Reuters he planned to leave Syria on Friday. "The mission does not serve the citizens," he said. "It doesn`t serve anything."
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 21 people were killed across the country on Thursday. Seven died in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor when security forces opened fire and the bodies of seven security force members were delivered to a hospital in the town of Maarat al-Noman, apparently killed in clashes with army deserters.
The Arab League is divided over Syria, with Qatar its most vocal critic and Algeria defending steps taken by Damascus.