News / Middle East

Arab League: Syria Observers Need More Time

Arab league observer, left, with orange vest, writes names of freed Syrian prisoners, Damascus, Jan. 15, 2012.
Arab league observer, left, with orange vest, writes names of freed Syrian prisoners, Damascus, Jan. 15, 2012.

The Arab League says its observer mission to Syria will continue as long as Damascus agrees to it. But Gulf Arab states say they were pulling their observers out of the country.

Arab League official Ahmed Ben Helli told journalists the organization hopes to continue its observer mission to Syria, despite a decision Tuesday by Gulf Arab states to pull their observers. Damascus, however, must agree to extend the mission.

At least 110 Arab observers remain in Syria after 55 others from the Gulf states have withdrawn. Saudi Arabia first indicated it was withdrawing its observers at an Arab League meeting Sunday. The observer mission began on December 19.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, meanwhile, told a press conference in Damascus that Syria wants a “security solution” to the more than 10-month-old anti-government uprising, explaining that Damascus has a "duty" to take action against armed groups spreading chaos in the country.

Moallem appeared to shut the door to Arab League demands for a negotiated solution with the opposition, insisting that only a “Syrian solution” was on the table. He also repeated allegations that the opposition was being “manipulated” by outside forces.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo Sunday called on Damascus to form a “national unity government” under the auspices of its vice president, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections later on. Syria rejected that proposal.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said that despite Moallem's call for a “security solution,” he doubts the government is capable of imposing one, adding that the Syrian government claims to have been wiping out terrorism as it cracks down on anti-government protests with military might. Whenever the government forces attack one locale, he said, trouble erupts in other places.

Opposition activists reported that government troops again laid siege to Syria's fourth largest city, Hama, on Tuesday, cutting communications. Shelling was also reported in the flashpoint cities of Daraa, Homs and Idlib.

The United Nations has reported that violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people since it began early last year. Syrian authorities have said terrorists have killed about 2,000 security force members since the unrest began.

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