CAIRO (Reuters) - The general who headed the Arab monitoring mission in Syria said on Monday that violence had dipped after the observers arrived, contradicting accounts by Syrian activists who have said the killing has continued unabated.
Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi was speaking a day after Arab League foreign ministers proposed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hand power to a deputy and set up a new unity government, after earlier efforts failed to end bloodshed.
"After the arrival of the mission, the intensity of violence began to decrease," Dabi told a news conference at the Cairo-based Arab League, echoing a line other League officials have taken.
"Our job was to check what is going on the ground and not investigate it," he said.
Syrian activists have been critical of the mission saying it has simply bought time for Assad without ending the violent 10-month crackdown on protests.
Dabi's own appointment has also been criticized because of the Sudanese government's rights record in Darfur and other areas of Sudan where there has been unrest.
"I assure that the heavy military equipment has been withdrawn from all cities...," Dabi said.
Despite criticism over the monitors' failure to end the bloodshed, the Arab ministers agreed to extend the mission, expand it and boost its technical and logistical support.
The extension was, however, overshadowed by Saudi Arabia's decision to withdraw its own monitors and urge the international community to exert "all possible pressure" on Damascus.
"The mission's role is monitoring and is not stopping the killing or stopping the destruction or otherwise," Dabi said, adding that the monitoring mission was sent to check whether Syria was adhering to an Arab peace plan.
That plan included calling for withdrawing the military from residential areas, releasing detainees, giving free access to the media and opening dialogue with the opposition.
"On releasing detainees, statements we got were based on general reports from opposition sources saying 12,000 have been detained or so but when we audited them we found that those reports lacked solid information and could not be verified," Dabi said.
Hundreds of Syrians have been reported killed since the unarmed observers began their work. At least three monitors have told Reuters of deep civilian suffering and complained that the Syrian government has shown no will to end the crackdown.
Countering those who have said the mission has been buying time for the Syrian government, Dabi said:
"I stressed (to Arab ministers) the necessity of bringing forward the peace process so that the national dialogue would take place simultaneously with the monitoring mission's work."
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Tamim Elyan; Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by David Stamp)