UPDATE 2-Arab League team in Syria to prepare monitoring

Thu Dec 22, 2011 4:27pm GMT

* Sudanese general to head observers, in Cairo for briefing

* Arab observers will demand free access across Syria

* Syria had balked over accepting observers for six weeks (Adds team arrives in Damascus)

CAIRO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - An advance team from the Arab League arrived in Syria on Thursday ahead of deploying monitors who will assess whether Damascus is acting to end a bloody nine-month crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, a League official said.

"We arrived in Damascus safely," Waguih Hanafy, a senior aide to Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and who is travelling with the team, said by telephone from the Syrian capital.

In Cairo, Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi arrived for talks at the League headquarters to be briefed on his role in leading the 150-strong observer team that could be sent to Syria before the end of December, provided preparations go smoothly.

Syria agreed in November to an Arab plan demanding an end to fighting, the withdrawal of troops from residential areas, the release of prisoners and the start of a dialogue with the opposition. It balked for six weeks over letting in monitors.

In that time, the League imposed economic sanctions and threatened to escalate the matter to the U.N. Security Council, while the death toll has soared as Syria has turned its troops and tanks against demonstrators.

It finally signed a protocol on monitors on Monday.   Continued...

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