CAIRO — Several Arab League monitors have left Syria or may do so soon because the mission has failed to halt President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown on a popular revolt against his rule, an Algerian former monitor said on Thursday.
Observers have not ventured out on tours of restive areas since 11 of them were injured by pro-Assad demonstrators in the port of Latakia on Monday, an attack which also sidelined plans to expand the team. A League official had said they would resume work on Thursday once new safety measures were in place in agreement with Syrian authorities.
Syrian opposition groups say the monitors, who deployed on December 26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan, have only bought Assad more time to crush protests that erupted in March, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian who quit the monitoring team this week, said many of his former colleagues shared his chagrin.
"I cannot specify a number, but many. When you talk to them their anger is clear," he told Reuters by telephone, adding that many could not leave because of orders from their governments.
Malek told Al-Jazeera earlier this week that he had quit Syria because the peace mission was a "farce."
"Observers have been fooled. The regime orchestrated (the visits), fabricated most of what we saw, to stop the Arab League taking action," Malek told Al-Jazeera. "What I saw was a humanitarian disaster. The regime isn't just committing one war crime but a series of war crimes against its people."
He said a Moroccan legal specialist, an aid worker from Djibouti and an Egyptian had also left the mission.Attacks in Syria kill western journalist and several others
Their departures could not immediately be confirmed. But another monitor, who asked not to be named, told Reuters he planned to leave Syria on Friday. "The mission does not serve the citizens," he said. "It doesn't serve anything."
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said Syria had only implemented parts of the agreement it had signed. "Neither the violence has stopped, nor the killing. The level has dropped, but it has not stopped," he told al-Hayat television.
The Arab League, which will hear a full report from the monitors on January 19, is divided over Syria, with Qatar its most vocal critic and Algeria defending steps taken by Damascus.
The mission, the first of its kind the League has mounted, is led by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, who has come under fire from rights groups over his role in the Darfur conflict.
Meanwhile, a Russian ship, allegedly carrying tons of weapons, made a dash for Syria after Cypriot officials allowed it to leave their waters, Turkish officials said Thursday.
The ship had made an unscheduled stop in Cyprus Tuesday, technically violating an EU embargo on arms shipments to Syria.
Cypriot officials — told by the ship's owners it was heading for Syria and Turkey — only allowed the ship to leave Wednesday after the owners said it had changed its destination for Turkey only.
But Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal — citing information from the Turkish navy — said the ship had docked Thursday at the Syrian port of Tartus, which Russian warships use as a resupply stop.
The St. Vincent and Grenadines-flagged ship, the Chariot, had apparently turned off its tracking device and the information could not be independently verified.
Video: French journalist killed in Syria (on this page)
Turkey had previously cultivated close ties with Syria, but is now one of the Assad regime's most vociferous critics. Turkey has imposed trade sanctions on Syria and is allowing its opposition groups to meet on its territory. Some 7,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey.
Turkish authorities intercepted an arms shipment from Iran to Syria in August and seized the cargo of a Syria-bound Iranian plane in March, because it breached U.N. sanctions.
Arab monitors hampered
The Arab observer delegation's work has already been hampered by an attack on monitors in the western port of Latakia this week that lightly wounded 11 and prompted the League to delay sending new observers to Syria to join about 165 already there.
Reuters reported that Malek and an unnamed monitor who was planning to leave spoke of continued violence, killings and torture, and described Syrians' suffering as "unimaginable."
"There is oppression. There is strong oppression and there is suffering, a lot of suffering, more than you imagine," the unnamed monitor told Reuters, describing one part of the central city of Homs he had visited.
"The military gear is still present even in the mosques. We asked that military equipment be withdrawn from the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque in Deraa and until today they have not withdrawn."
Video: Syrian president vows to use 'iron fist' (on this page)
Assad mocked the Arab League in a speech in which he said that it had failed for six decades to promised to take a position in Arab interests. He said he would strike down a revolt he slammed as foreign plot.
The unnamed monitor told Reuters the Syrian authorities had shown little genuine willingness to comply with the plan while the observers lacked the expertise to do their mission justice.
"This is a very big problem and it is related firstly to the general will of the Syrian authorities to cooperate with the delegation in a genuine manner and without maneuvering," he said.
"Secondly, it is related to the expertise of the delegation... It needs experts in the fields of monitoring, of diplomacy, of international law."
The Associated Press, Reuters contributed to this report and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.