LONDON: An Arab League official has launched a scathing attack on the regional body`s mission to Syria, claiming it has been powerless to prevent `multiple crimes against humanity` from being committed by troops loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the team, said the observer mission was becoming a `farce` He said it was not acting independently and was `serving the regime`s interests`.
Malek is the first from the 60man delegation which has been widely criticised to break ranks.
His fierce criticism echoes regular warnings made by Syrian opposition figures who have claimed throughout the past month that the mission was being manipulated by regime officials.
In an interview with al-Jazeera, Malek claimed to have witnessed numerous incidents of torture in Syria and to have left behind a country on the verge of civil war.
`What I saw was a humanitarian disaster,` he said. `The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against itspeople. The snipers are everywhere, shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released.
Malek said the leader of the delegation, the former Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi who has attracted controversy for his involvement in the Darfur conflict was attempting to avoid inciting Syrian officials by acknowledging unrest, but not the scale or severity of the violence.
`The head of the mission wanted to steer a middle course in order not to anger the (Syrian) authorities or any other side,` he added.
Syrian officials have also been far from satisfied by the monitors` presence, which came after the 18member Arab League suspended Syria in protest at the 11-month regime crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
In his third major speech since the uprising began in March, Assad condemned the Arab League for what he described as a betrayal of Syria and of Arabism.
Speaking at a rally in the heart of Damascus on Wednesday, he saidthe organisation was ill-equipped to sort out the crisis in Syria given its lack of achievement over the past 60 years.
Assad characterised the violence in Syria as a broad international conspiracy involving western states, terrorists, the Arab League and the global media.
But while Assad remains in control of the capital, it is not the loyalist stronghold it was during the summer. Elsewhere, an entrenched divide now exists between regime backers comprised mainly of members of Assad`s Allawite sect as well as Druze and Christians and opposition groups, largely members of Syria`s Sunni majority.
Assad`s combative speech offered little to bring any sort of compromise, despite promising constitutional amendments in March and multi-party elections in either May or June.
Anwar Malek`s comments to alJazeera have heightened concern about the viability of the Arab League mission, which will be reviewed by officials for a second time on Jan 19.-Dawn/Guardian News Service