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Arab League halts observer mission in Syria

The mission sharply criticised the regime of President Bashar Assad for the escalating violence which has killed at least 80 people across the country.

Syrian army defectors stand guard on a rooftop to secure an anti-Syrian regime protest in the Deir Baghlaba area in Homs province, central Syria yesterday
Syrian army defectors stand guard on a rooftop to secure an anti-Syrian regime protest in the Deir Baghlaba area in Homs province, central Syria yesterday
Image: STR/AP/Press Association Images

THE ARAB LEAGUE has today halted its observer mission to Syria, sharply criticising the regime of President Bashar Assad for escalating violence in recent days that has killed at least 80 people across the country.

The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence that according to the United Nations has killed at least 5,400 people as Assad seeks to crush persistent protests demanding an end to his rule.

But the initiatives continue to face two major obstacles: Damascus’ rejection of an Arab peace plan which it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia’s willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.

Syrian government forces clashed with anti-regime army defectors across the country today. At least nine were reported killed in the clashes and other violence. The new deaths come after two days of bloody turmoil killed at least 74 people, including small children.

The month-old Arab observer mission in Syria had come under widespread criticism for failing to bring a halt to the regime’s crackdown. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission Tuesday, asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene.

League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in a statement that after discussions with Arab foreign ministers, the organization decided to halt the observers’ work immediately because of the increasing violence, until the League’s council can meet to decide the mission’s fate.

He blamed Damascus for the spike in bloodshed, saying the regime has “resorted to escalating the military option in complete violation of (its) commitments” to end the crackdown, Elaraby said. He said the victims of the violence have been “innocent citizens,” in an implicit rejection of Syria’s claims that it is fighting “terrorists.”

Elaraby’s deputy, Ahmed Ben Heli, told reporters that the around 100 observers will remain in Damascus while their mission is “reevaluated.”

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Associated Press

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