Arab League monitors are preparing to report on the situation in Syria, after a one-month mission to observe the government's efforts to implement a plan aimed at stopping its bloody crackdown on a 10-month uprising.
The mandate for the monitor mission expires Thursday, and Arab League foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Sunday to review the observers' final report and decide what to do next.
An Arab League monitor told VOA he expects the mission will be extended, because withdrawing the monitors would create an unwanted vacuum. He said their presence at least "keeps the status quo."
Syrian rights groups have criticized the mission's effectiveness. They say President Bashar al-Assad has deceived the monitors and escalated deadly attacks since the observers arrived on December 26.
Qatar's ruling emir has called for Arab troops to be deployed in Syria to stop Mr. Assad's deadly crackdown on protesters who want an end to his 11-year autocratic rule. Syria has rejected the idea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday any plans to send foreign troops to Syria will not be approved in the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow holds a veto. Russia is a key military ally of Syria.
On the ground in Syria, opposition activists said Thursday government troops have pulled back from the besieged rebel-held town of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border. Syrian tanks and armored vehicles had surrounded the town for days and engaged in days of fighting with army defectors.
An Arab League monitor told VOA he was optimistic about the ceasefire in Zabadani, saying it was the first positive step he had seen.
Zabadani has been a frequent site of opposition protests since the start of a 10-month-old uprising against Mr. Assad's rule. Army defectors who have joined the uprising in recent months have fought pro-government troops but have not managed to hold territory for a prolonged period.
European Union foreign ministers are due to meet Monday in Brussels to discuss a new round of asset freezes and travel bans on Syrian individuals and companies. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that London will lead the way in tightening EU sanctions against the Syrian president, whom he called a "wretched tyrant."
Cameron also said there is "growing evidence" that Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are providing material support to the Assad government. Iran and Hezbollah have denied the accusations.
The United Nations says violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people. Syria says "terrorists" have killed about 2,000 members of the security forces since the unrest began.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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