The Arab League has agreed to boost support for the Syrian opposition and urge the U.N. Security Council to form a joint Arab-U.N. peacekeeping force to try to end the Syrian government's increasingly deadly crackdown on an 11-month uprising.
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo adopted a resolution Sunday calling on member states to provide the Syrian opposition with "open channels of communication" and "full political and material support." The 22-member league also agreed to press for a Security Council resolution authorizing an Arab-U.N. peacekeeping force to implement a cease-fire in the Syrian government's conflict with rebels and protesters.
Damascus quickly rejected the resolution. Syrian ambassador to the league Ahmed Youssef said it reflects the "hysteria" of Arab governments who "failed" to achieve a Security Council resolution authorizing "foreign intervention" in Syria. Russia and China vetoed a Western and Arab-backed resolution earlier this month. It would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal urged his Arab League counterparts to take "decisive" action after what he called the failure of previous efforts to stop "massacres" of the Syrian people.
Syrian rights activists say renewed shelling by pro-Assad forces killed at least four civilians in the opposition hub of Homs on Sunday. They say hundreds of people have been killed in Homs since the government began bombarding opposition-dominated districts of the central city February 4.
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Sunday said Syrian Red Crescent volunteers reached Homs and distributed food, medical supplies and blankets to thousands of people affected by a humanitarian crisis in the city.
In other developments, Syrian state news agency SANA said 22 security personnel were buried Sunday after being killed in fighting with armed terrorists whom Damascus blames for the uprising. One of those buried was Brigadier General Issa Ahmad al-Kholi, the head of a Damascus military hospital who was assassinated by gunmen near his home on Saturday.
Syrian state television also showed crowds gathering for funerals of some of the 28 people killed in suicide car bombings of two military sites in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday.
SANA also reported that a presidential commission assigned with drafting a new constitution submitted the document to Mr. Assad on Sunday. It said the Syrian president will review the proposed constitution and refer the document to parliament before putting it to a referendum. Syrian opposition activists have long dismissed Mr. Assad's reform pledges as meaningless while he continues suppressing his opponents.
The Arab League resolution adopted Sunday also calls on Syria's disparate opposition groups to unite before a new coalition of nations called the "Friends of Syria" meets in Tunisia on February 24. The United States and its European and Arab allies agreed to form the group in response to Russia and China blocking action by the U.N. Security Council.
Also Sunday, a Sudanese general who led an Arab League observer team in Syria resigned, while Arab foreign ministers agreed to formally end the mission. The regional bloc sent the observers to Syria with the agreement of Damascus in December but pulled them out last month as violence escalated.
In another move, the Arab foreign ministers nominated former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Elah al-Khatib as a new special envoy for Syria. Al-Khatib was the U.N. troubleshooter for the Libyan crisis last year.
Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against what he called Mr. Assad's "pernicious, cancerous regime." All four states border Syria. Al-Zawahiri's comments came after the suicide car bombings in Aleppo. No group has claimed responsibility, but such attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaida.
In Rome Sunday, Pope Benedict urged the Syrian government to recognize "the legitimate aspirations" of its people and embark on a national dialogue to end the violent crackdown.
The United Nations said last month that violence linked to the uprising had killed more than 5,400 people. U.N. officials stopped updating the death toll in January, saying it was too difficult to obtain information. Rights groups say hundreds more people have been killed since then.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.