Arab League stops short of turning to UN on Syria

Mideast bloc’s draft doesn’t explicitly condemn Damascus; Syrian dissident: Don’t expect Western intervention.

Syria anti-gov't protesters in Cairo_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Syria anti-gov't protesters in Cairo_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Arab League signaled Sunday it would call for an end to violence in Syria, but stopped short of asking the UN to send experts to bolster the Arab peace mission to the country.
A leaked draft statement says violence by Syrian security forces against anti-government protesters has continued and the military has failed to withdraw from cities. It says the government has only partially complied with its pledge to release political prisoners, with citizens complaining that some are still being detained in unknown locations.
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The Arab plan also called for Assad’s government to permit peaceful protests, start dialogue with political opponents and allow foreign media to travel freely to the country. Syria agreed, but the pledge remains unfulfilled.
Recalling the monitors might send a signal that Arab efforts to bring one of their own to heel have failed and be taken as a green light for foreign military intervention, which many Arab governments fiercely oppose, like that which helped topple Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi last year.
But Marc Hussein of the exiled Reform Party of Syria said Syria presents a fundamentally different situation than Libya, because of both Western economic interests in the former and lingering Arab support for the latter.
“Libya is a big land, not close to Israel, and it has oil and gas.
Libya is more attractive in terms of economics and investing,” he told The Jerusalem Post from Paris.
Hussein said rallying Arab support for Libya-style military intervention would be extremely difficult. “The situation in Syria is different. Russia, China, Iraq and Iran support Syria. Lebanon is still under Syrian control, and in Jordan there are 1.5 million Palestinians, who also support Syria,” he said.
The Arab League convened an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday, attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Qatar and officials from Saudi Arabia and other influential Arab states. Delegates examined monitors’ findings since starting work December 26, and discussed ways for observers to work more independently of Syrian authorities.
The presence of Saudi and Egyptian representatives gives weight to the committee’s decisions because other League states tend to follow their lead.
But despite pressure from Qatar, which chairs the committee on Syria, and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, some are playing down the chances of a harsh rebuke of Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying it could burn bridges with his government.
“We don’t expect today’s meeting will come up with something that would fully condemn one party, because this will mean an end to the relationship between the Arab League and this party,” a League source said Sunday.
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The initial report from the monitors would acknowledge the Syrian government’s release of 3,484 detainees and make “a request to the Syrian regime for full cooperation with the monitors,” a League source said.
It would also call on the Syrian opposition to help monitors by providing names and locations of people detained by the government, the source said.
About 50 of Assad’s opponents gathered outside the Cairo hotel where the meeting was taking place, chanting: “The people want the president dead” and “Down, down with Bashar.” Some waved caricatures of Assad that likened him to the vampire Dracula, sucking the lifeblood from the Syrian people.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said on Friday there had been no end to the killing in Syria and the monitors could not stay in the country to “waste time.”
Assad’s failure to abide by an Arab League peace plan saw Syria suspended from the 22- member regional body in November and the country now faces economic sanctions.
Eleven Syrian soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded in clashes with army defectors on Sunday in the village of Basr al-Harir in the southern province of Deraa, the Britishbased Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It did not report any casualties among the army defectors.
Syria says it is providing the monitors with all they need and has urged them to show “objectivity and professionalism.”
The UN and opposition groups estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Assad since March.