Gulf Arabs quit Syria monitoring mission

Syrian soldiers man a checkpoint in Homs January 23, 2012.  REUTERS-Ahmed JadallahSaudi Arabia's Gulf allies joined Riyadh on Tuesday in pulling out of an Arab League monitoring team to Syria, risking the collapse of a mission whose presence has not halted more than 10 months of violence.

Envoys to the Cairo-based League will meet later in the day to discuss whether to call off the whole mission, Sudan's ambassador to the 22-member body said.

"The meeting of representatives today will discuss the fate of the monitoring mission, whether it continues or withdraws," the envoy, Kamal Hassan Ali, told Reuters.

Syria is becoming an Arab and international pariah for its harsh response to an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in which thousands of people have been killed.

The Arab League demanded on Sunday that Assad step down in favor of a unity government to end the bloodshed, but said Arab observers should stay in Syria for another month.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at the time his country was quitting the mission because Syria had not implemented any part of an Arab peace plan agreed in November.

"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 League's demand for a change of government in Syria puts more pressure on the U.N. Security Council to overcome its divisions and take a stand on the bloodletting there.

In an initial response, an official Syrian source told the state news agency SANA on Monday that the Arab initiative was a "conspiracy against Syria" and "flagrant interference" in its affairs.

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," Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday, adding that he would name a special envoy to Syria this week.

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 his 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.

The bloodshed in Syria, whose revolt was inspired by others that have toppled three Arab leaders, has damaged Assad's standing in the world, with Iran among his few remaining allies.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Security Council's silence on Syria was scandalous, but that the Arab League call for the Syrian leader's removal had provided "a glimmer of light."

Russia has so far resisted U.N. Security Council action against Assad, but a senior Russian lawmaker, Mikhail Margelov, said Moscow could do little more to back the 46-year-old leader.

He said Russia's veto last year, alongside China, of a Western-drafted Security Council resolution condemning Assad's crackdown had "exhausted our arsenal of such resources."

Germany's U.N. 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.

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.