Syrian Army pulls back from cities: Arab League

Elaraby said the League would report on the monitors` first week of work and decide if more were needed.

Cairo: Syria`s military has withdrawn from residential areas and is on the outskirts of the country`s cities, but gunfire continues and snipers are still a threat, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said on Monday.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in a crackdown on protests which broke out against President Bashar al-Assad in March. Syrian authorities say armed groups have killed 2,000 security forces personnel.

"The latest telephone report said there is gunfire from different places, which makes it hard to say who is shooting who," said Elaraby. "Gunfire should be stopped and there are snipers."

"We call upon the Syrian government to fully commit to what it promised," he said.

Elaraby was speaking in Cairo a week after Arab League monitors arrived in Syria to check compliance with a peace plan which calls for Assad to withdraw troops and tanks from the streets, release detainees and talk to his opponents. Many Syrian opposition activists are skeptical that the mission can put real pressure on Assad to halt the violence.

Elaraby said the League would report on the monitors` first week of work and decide if more were needed. He said 70 monitors were currently working in six cities, and 30 others would arrive soon.

Those already in the country had achieved the release of 3,484 prisoners in Syria, he said, and the League was asking Syrian opposition groups for names of people thought to have been held in jails so their release could be verified.

It was unclear if the number included prisoner releases in the past month announced by the Syrian government. The government said on December 28 it had freed 755 prisoners.

The Arab League mission was also making a difference by getting food supplies into Homs, a hotbed of anti-government protests, and evacuating dead bodies, Elaraby added.

"Give the monitoring mission the chance to prove its presence on the ground," he said.

Elaraby defended the record so far of Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, chief of the monitoring contingent.

Dabi last week raised fears among opposition groups that the monitoring effort could whitewash the Assad government when he said there was "nothing frightening" happening in Homs.

"There is no doubt that he (Dabi) is a respectable military man and his record, which I saw, does not include anything that would condemn him," Elaraby said.

He expected Dabi to return to Cairo by the end of the week and present a report on what was achieved in the first week of monitoring. Arab foreign ministers would then decide if the number of monitors should be increased.

Bureau Report

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