29 Jan 2012

Growing violence forces League to suspend Syrian mission

5:31 pm on 29 January 2012

The Arab League says it is suspending its controversial monitoring mission in Syria because of the surge in violence.

It says the observers will remain in Syria, but temporarily stop their work.

The league is expected to meet next week to decide whether to altogether withdraw its monitors.

The mission was set up in December to monitor the compliance by Damascus with the league's plan to end bloodshed. But several countries withdrew monitors.

The mission has been criticised as toothless by Syria's opposition, the BBC reports.

"Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence ... it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria," Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi said in a statement.

He said the issue would now be discussed at the league's council.

On Tuesday the league extended the mission for another month. But Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states withdrew their monitors, reducing the total number to 110.

Conservative estimates are that about 200 people have been killed since the mission was renewed for a second month on Tuesday.

Diplomatic focus

The United Nations Security Council has met to consider a draft resolution against Syria's government.

Britain, France and Germany drafted a resolution with Arab states, supporting the League's call for President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power.

The BBC reports Russia, an ally of Mr Assad, has said it will not back the text.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters after the meeting in New York that the draft resolution was unacceptable, but Moscow was ready to engage in further talks.

He said Russia had set out its "red lines" and that the resolution should not contain any threat of sanctions or an arms embargo.

'Losing control'

A BBC reporter in Damascus says the regime appears to be losing control of rebellious areas of the capital. He says opposition fighters have set up checkpoints and appear to move around freely in the suburbs of Douma and Saqba.

Thousands of people attended the funeral of an anti-government protester killed on Thursday in Saqba.

Mourners chanted, "Better to die than be humiliated."