Arab League foreign ministers convened Sunday to hash out draft recommendations to end violence in Syria and create a unity government to prepare for early parliamentary and presidential elections. The meeting came after Saudi Arabia said it was withdrawing its observers from the country after an Arab monitoring mission failed to stem ten months of bloodshed.
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Late on Sunday the ministers were discussing the wording of a final statement based on 15 draft recommendations. The draft, obtained by Reuters, includes a call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to give his top deputy the power to deal with a unity government during the transitional period.
The unity government, to be established within two months, would be responsible for setting up an independent commission of inquiry into violations committed during the 10-month uprising against Assad's rule and restoring security and stability in Syria.
The draft pledges Arab support for the unity government as well as helping fund and support a complete overhaul of the internal security forces in Syria. The unity government would also prepare for elections within three months to a constituent body that will draft a new constitution to be put to referendum.
Details remain unclear, however, over how the League might enforce any of these measures.
"My country will withdraw its monitors because the Syrian government did not execute any of the elements of the Arab resolution plan," Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal told Arab foreign ministers at a closed door meeting in Cairo.
"We are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States," he said, calling for "all possible pressure" to push Syria to adhere to the Arab peace plan.
Saudi Arabia, the region's political and economic powerhouse, exerts enormous influence over other Gulf countries which tend to fall in line with its policies.
Also Sunday, US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced they would be introducing the Syrian Human Rights Accountability Act to impose sanctions against the Assad regime.
The bill, set to be introduced this coming week, would require US President Barack Obama to identify people in the Syrian government who have violated the human rights of pro-democracy demonstrators, members of the opposition or organizations calling for reform in the country.
The bill would also prohibit the sale of technology or weapons to Syria
that could be used for censorship or human rights abuses in the country.
The announcement came just days after the Obama administration announced
it would close the US embassy in Damascus due to a rapid deterioration
of the security situation in Syria.
Schumer said the bill would ensure "no companies that do business with
the United States facilitate these atrocities." He and Gillibrand, both
Democrats, are the two US senators from New York State.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of
Democracies, said Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is providing
significant quantities of weapons, technology and assistance to Assad.
"That's expected from the Iranian regime. What is unconscionable are the
international companies from Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden,
Japan and elsewhere that are intentionally or unwittingly selling tools
of oppression to Damascus," he told The Jerusalem Post
in an e-mail.
"These tools include sophisticated surveillance technologies as well as
police and military weaponry. This new legislation targets those
companies which should be sanctioned by the US government unless they
immediately take steps to ensure that their products are not aiding and
abetting this slaughter.
Sellers should beware."
Arab diplomatic sources have said in recent weeks that Bahrain, Kuwait
and Oman are increasingly reluctant to step up pressure on Syria when
they are facing protests at home.
Qatar, which has led calls for escalation against Syria, said it was
time to review the whole mission and consider dispatching Arab
peacekeeping troops to quell the violence that United Nations says has
killed more than 5,000 people.
"The reality says that the bloodshed has not stopped and the killing
machine is still working and violence is spread everywhere," Qatari
Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said in a statement.
"What is needed now is a full review of the work of this mission and a
look into what results it achieved and if those results are convincing
enough to continue or if the realities call for other options and one
other option is.... to send Arab peacekeeping forces."
Qatar and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals of Syria and its ally Iran, are
impatient for decisive action against Assad but military action against
Assad would need unanimous backing and several states prefer a
negotiated solution, League sources say.
The UN Security Council is also split on how to address the crisis, with
Western powers demanding tougher sanctions and a weapons embargo, and
Assad's ally Russia preferring to leave the Arabs to negotiate a
Suggestions to send in UN experts to support the Arab observers made
little headway at the last meeting earlier this month and Damascus has
said it would accept an extension of the observer mission but not an
expansion in its scope.
The lack of a unified Arab response will frustrate Syria's opposition,
which has demanded Arab countries clearly state Assad's failure to
adhere to its peace plan, withdraw monitors and hand the file to the
Critics say the monitoring mission is handing Assad more time to kill
opponents of his rule. But Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia told Arab League
chief Nabil Elaraby they would oppose referring the matter to the UN, a
League source said on Sunday.
"The three states support solving the Syrian crisis inside the Arab League," the source said.
Two Syrian army officers, an infantryman, a rebel and two civilians died
in clashes on Sunday in Talfita, a village in the Damascus region on
Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Intermittent fighting continued in the town of Douma, nine miles (14 km)
northwest of the capital, which had been encircled by the military,
said the UK-based rights group.
An opposition activist and a rebel fighter in Douma said the fighting
had eased and the rebels held about two thirds of its main streets.
Masked fighters had set up checkpoints and a funeral procession for five
civilians killed on Saturday was passing through the town, they said.