Arab League ministers seeks joint Syria mission with UN

Cairo-based bloc cuts all ties with Damascus; Al-Qaida leader exhorts Muslims to fight Assad.

Children with faces painted with Syria oppositon flag colors (photo credit: REUTERS)
Children with faces painted with Syria oppositon flag colors
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Arab League called Sunday for the UN Security Council to scrap its own monitoring mission to Syria in favor of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force in the battle-scarred country.
Arab ministers met in Cairo to revive diplomatic efforts after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution that called for President Bashar Assad to step aside. That resolution was based on an Arab peace plan and had Western backing.
The Arab League urged the Syrian opposition to unify its ranks and for “providing all forms of political and material support to it.”
He did not specify if that support should include military aid. Western powers have shunned military action, despite widespread condemnation of the repression of the uprising, in which thousands have been killed since it erupted last March.
Syrian television quoted its ambassador to the League as calling its decision “a flagrant departure from the group’s charter and a hostile act that targets Syria’s security and stability.”
“This decision reflects the state of hysteria and blundering that the governments of some Arab countries are living in, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after their latest failure at the UN Security Council to get foreign intervention in Syria,” the ambassador was quoted as saying.
As part of the Arab efforts, Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on February 24 of a “Friends of Syria” contact group made up of Arab and other states, and backed by Western powers.
“How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?” the ambassador asked.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal questioned ministers at the start of the League session.
“At our meeting today I call for decisive measures, after the failure of the half-solutions.”
The resolution said Arabs would scrap their monitoring mission, which had been sent to Syria in late December, but was criticized by Syria’s opposition as ineffective from the outset. It also faced internal dissent and logistical problems.
On Sunday, the Sudanese general leading the observers quit.
“I won’t work one more time in the framework of the Arab League,” said Gen. Mohammed Dabi, whose appointment had been criticized because of Sudan’s own rights record. “I performed my job with full integrity and transparency but I won’t work here again as the situation is skewed,” he added, without elaborating.
In place of the Arab team, the League called for the UN Security Council to issue a resolution setting up a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to go to Syria.
League chief Nabil Elaraby has already proposed such a joint mission to the UN secretary- general, but the plan has drawn lukewarm support from diplomats at the United Nations in New York. The United States and Germany said they were studying it.
On the ground in the besieged city of Homs, sporadic rocket and gunfire broke a respite in government bombardments of opposition-held neighborhoods, killing at least four people, activists said.
Shelling had eased during Saturday night and Sunday morning before Assad’s forces renewed their rocket barrages.
At least four people were killed, activists said.
At least 300 people are said to have been killed in the past week in mostly Sunni-opposition areas, food and medicine are running short, and people have been trapped indoors for days by relentless artillery and sniper fire, residents said.
Sunday’s resolution said violence against civilians in Syria had violated international law and “perpetrators deserve punishment.”
It also reaffirmed a call for Arabs to implement economic sanctions on Syria and decided on ending diplomatic cooperation with Damascus.
Analysts and diplomats say sanctions that Arabs agreed to impose last year had limited impact so far because Iraq and other neighbors have not implemented them.
Although the ministers lent their support to the opposition, the resolution did not recognize the opposition. Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Ben Abdessalem said recognizing the Syrian National Council was “premature and requires the opposition get unified.” Earlier he had told ministers: “The Syrian people deserve freedom as much as their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab states that witnessed major political change.”
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al Thani said the “Friends of Syria” forum would provide “a good opportunity to try to create a clear international direction to help the Syrian people to exit the crisis.”
Diplomats at the United Nations said Saudi Arabia had circulated a new draft resolution backing the Arab plan for the General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, to consider. Assembly resolutions are non-binding but cannot be vetoed.
Riyadh denied on Sunday reports that it had formally presented the resolution to the assembly.
Egypt’s news agency said Elaraby had proposed appointing former Jordanian minister and UN envoy to Libya, Abdel Elah Khatib, as the League’s special envoy to Syria, but a source in the meeting said Khatib’s name was not put forward.
In the northern Syrian town of Aleppo, mourners gathered for the funerals of 28 soldiers and civilians killed in bomb attacks on two military and security facilities on Friday.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but the government has blamed previous such attacks in Damascus on al-Qaida.
Speaking at the funerals, Ahmed Badr Din Hassoun, mufti of Syria, appealed to the opposition to end its campaign.
“Enough. Enough. Enough. Why, brothers in the opposition, do you want to burn down your country? Why do you want to shed blood?” he said.
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He also urged Assad to stamp out corruption, but added, “this way it will not remain a pretext for those who want to destroy this nation.”
Syrian state television reported that Assad, who says he is introducing reforms to meet the opposition demands, received a new draft constitution on Sunday.
“When the constitution is recognized, Syria will have taken the most important step toward a legal and constitutional framework for transitioning the country to a new era... that will achieve what we all aspire to,” Hassoun was quoted as saying.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al- Zawahiri urged Syrians not to rely on the West or Arab governments in their uprising.
Zawahiri described Assad as a butcher and urged Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to come to the aid of the rebels.
“You know better what they are planning against you,” Zawahiri said in a video recording posted on the Internet.
“Don’t depend on the Arab League and its corrupt governments supporting it.”