The images and statements emerging from Syria, contrary to what the Arab League’s monitors have claimed, are not reassuring. Even considering all the challenges the League’s monitors face, it must be said that the mission has so far fallen well short of what was expected of it.

The Arab League’s mission was to see an end to the bloodshed and arbitrary detention and to ensure media access. None of these targets have so far been observed by the regime. Human Rights Watch says that the government has continued to detain protesters, while nearly 100 people have been killed since the arrival of the first batch of observers on Wednesday. The observers’ moves raise some disturbing questions. After four days in Damascus meeting regime officials, they travelled to Homs, spending most of the day in the governor’s office before visiting Bab Amr neighbourhood, which had been under heavy attack for four days. The observers spent less than three hours there.

The regime has shown that it can easily circumvent the mission. The observers must declare their destinations, which means the regime can withdraw its forces just before the League team arrives. Activists say security forces resume their crackdown the minute the observers depart. The choice of Gen Muhammad Ahmad Al Dabi as mission leader was a controversial one. While he is unlikely to openly side with the Assad regime as some suggest, neither is he showing any urgency to stop the human rights violations taking place under his nose. “Have some patience. Bear with us. We will do our job in a way that will lead to a dialogue,” he said in Homs. But dialogue is now almost out of the question for most protesters, and the vast majority of the opposition. The regime has shown remarkable aversion to dialogue ever since demonstrations began. Had real talks taken place then, bloodshed could have been avoided. Instead, all efforts at negotiation, in and out of Syria, have failed.

This is a reality that the observers would do well to understand. Their mission is not to buy time for the Syrian regime but to end the bloodshed and suppression of protests. On both counts, the Syrian people have so far been badly let down.

 – National editorial