Arab ministers meet again in Cairo to discuss their observer mission to Syria.
CAIRO: Arab ministers gathered on Sunday to review the record of a widely criticised observer mission to Syria, amid growing calls for the bloc to cede to the United Nations the lead role in trying to end nearly 10 months of bloodshed.
The ministerial committee on Syria met here, where the Arab League has its headquarters, to be briefed by the head of the mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi.
The meeting, chaired by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, will discuss the monitors' first report which will contain pictures, maps and information of the events witnessed by the monitors on the ground, League Assistant Secretary General Ahmed Ben Hilli said.
According to an Arab League source, the report says that the monitors were subjected to harassment by the Syrian government and by the opposition.
It also recommends that the mission continue its work and that monitors be equipped with more technological assistance, the source told reporters.
A team of Arab League monitors has been in Syria since December 26, trying to assess whether President Bashar al-Assad's regime is complying with a peace accord aimed at ending its deadly crackdown on dissent.
Critics say it has been completely outmanoeuvred by the government and has failed to make any progress towards stemming the crackdown. They have called for the mission to pull out.
Dabi -- a Sudanese former military intelligence chief who is himself the focus of controversy -- said it was too early to judge the mission.
"This is the first time that the Arab League has carried out such a mission," Dabi told Britain's Observer newspaper. "But it has only just started, so I have not had enough time to form a view."
The Arab League has admitted to mistakes but defended the mission, saying it had secured the release of prisoners and withdrawal of tanks from cities.
It said rather than pull out, it planned to send more observers.
"No plan to withdraw the observers is on the agenda of the Arab ministerial committee meeting on Syria," the bloc's deputy secretary general, Adnan Issa, told AFP on Saturday.
"We are not talking about a pullout but reinforcing the mission."
Sunday's meeting comes as heavy clashes erupted between the Syrian army and deserters, leaving 11 soldiers dead, human rights activists said.
Another 20 soldiers were wounded in the fighting in the village of Basr al-Harir in Daraa province, south of Damascus, while nine soldiers defected to join the rebel troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based watchdog also reported heavy machine-gun exchanges between the army and deserters in the Daraa town of Dael. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Cradle of the anti-Assad protests that began in March, Daraa has been one of the provinces hardest hit by the crackdown.
The Observatory also said a 19-year-old civilian was killed in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
On Saturday, Syria held funerals for 26 victims of a suicide bombing in Damascus, promising an iron fist response.
The opposition pointed the finger for Friday's bomb at the regime itself, as it did after similar attacks in Damascus on December 23 killed 44 people.
Violence in Syria on Saturday claimed the lives of 21 civilians, 17 by security force fire and four by a rocket targeting a pro-regime demonstration, the Observatory said.
The Assad regime has consistently asserted that the unrest sweeping the country is the work of armed rebels, not largely peaceful demonstrators as maintained by Western governments and human rights watchdogs.
After the Damascus bombing, the United States condemned it and again called for Assad to step down, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said all violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately.
The Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, said the bombing clearly bears the regime's fingerprints.
It said the UN Security Council had to address the bloodshed, which the world body estimated in December had killed more than 5,000 people since March.
The SNC said a joint effort between the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council represents a first step toward the urgent and necessary measures to assure the protection of civilians, and to ensure that the regime does not commit additional bombings and killings.
So far veto-wielding Security Council permanent members Beijing and Moscow have blocked efforts by Western governments to secure UN action against Damascus.
On Sunday, a large Russian naval flotilla led by an aircraft carrier was docked in the Syrian port of Tartus in what state media hailed as a show of solidarity by its Cold War ally.