Head for UN “or the moon”, Syria tells Arab League
Beirut: Gulf Arab states withdrew their observers from Syria on Tuesday after it rejected an Arab League peace plan stipulating that President Bashar al-Assad surrender power, and the group's chief called for UN help in ending Syria's bloody upheaval
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem accused the League of plotting to engineer foreign intervention in the crisis, in which thousands of civilians and members of security forces have been killed in a 10-month-old uprising against Assad.
"Definitely the solution in Syria is not the solution suggested by the Arab League, which we have rejected. They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis," Moualem said.
"Heading to the Security Council will be the third stage in their plan, and the only thing left is the last step of internationalization," he told a news conference in Damascus.
"They can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern."
The bloodshed in Syria, whose revolt was inspired by others that have toppled three Arab leaders, has battered Assad's standing in the world, with Iran among his few remaining allies.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in March. Damascus says "terrorists" have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.
With Damascus obdurate, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the League's committee on Syria, had sent a joint letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon giving details of the organization's latest plan for a political solution in Syria.
The letter asks for a "joint meeting between them in the UN headquarters to inform the Security Council about developments and obtain the support of the Council for this plan," a League statement said.
The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf, said the idea of resorting to the Security Council was to rally the world behind the Arab League peace initiative for Syria.
"We pulled out (the monitors) because we didn't see any positive response from the Syrian government. But it is a process. Take it to the UN Security Council to get the support on that initiative," he told journalists in London.
"We hope it doesn't reach an escalation of a military intervention. The last thing we want is an unstable region. We hope the Syrian regime will comply with the Arab initiative. I think this is the logical way out, a peaceful solution, a peaceful transition. I think this is the only hope they have."
Gulf Arab Walkout
League officials said 55 Gulf Arab observers were being withdrawn while the other 110 members of the team would continue work in Syria pending formal approval by Syrian authorities.
Moualem said Damascus was mulling whether to let the monitors stay another month but he poured contempt on the Arab League's call on Sunday for Assad to hand power to a unity government to defuse the violence.
He said that while "half the universe is against us," Syria's long-time ally and arms supplier Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, would never permit foreign intervention. "That is a red line for them."
Still, the Arab League's call for a change of Syrian government, coupled with the diminution of the monitoring mission, will raise pressure on the Security Council to overcome its divisions and act to stop Syria's bloodshed.
What began as civilian street protests has escalated into an armed insurgency in some regions as Assad has sought to crush unrest with troops and tanks.
The presence of the 165 monitors has not halted the violence, as envisaged under a peace plan Damascus approved. Saudi Arabia started the exodus from the mission on Sunday when it said it was pulling out because Syria had not implemented any part of the League plan agreed in November.
Riyadh's Gulf Arab allies followed suit on Tuesday.
"The GCC states have decided to respond to the decision of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to withdraw its monitors from the Arab League delegation to Syria," the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement.
It said the GCC was "certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue, and that the Syrian regime would not abide by the Arab League's resolutions".
The Arab observers deployed late last month to assess Syria's compliance with an earlier Arab League plan.
"There has been some progress, but there has not been immediate or complete implementation as the Arab initiative requires," Elaraby said on Tuesday, adding that he would name a special envoy to Syria this week.
"The butcher and the victim"
A Syrian opposition group condemned the mission's leader, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, for a report in which he highlighted violence by Assad's adversaries as well as by the president's security forces.
The Syria-based Local Coordination Committees criticized Dabi for equating "the butcher and the victim", saying he had "blurred the monumental hardship that millions of Syrians experience every day while they rise to reach freedom, dignity, democracy and a wise system of governance".
It said the security forces had killed 36 people, including three children, on Monday. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 26.
The state news agency SANA reported the burials of nine military or law enforcement "martyrs" the same day.
In Syria's restive city of Homs, soldiers were stationed behind sand barriers at street corners, most shops were closed and residents were nervous, according to a Reuters reporter taken there on a government-organized visit.
Scattered shooting was a reminder of the struggle between Assad's government army and rebels who now control most of it.
"Every day we have a funeral. Every day we receive between four to five dead. There was one day we buried 20 soldiers," said Haitham Othman, an officer at a military hospital where three security men were buried on Monday.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Security Council's silence on Syria was scandalous, but that the Arab League call for Assad's removal was "a glimmer of light".
Germany's UN envoy, Peter Wittig, said the Arab League's request for the Council to endorse its call for Assad to hand over to his deputy could be a "game-changer" for the world body.