Gulf countries leave Arab League mission in Syria


A key bloc of Gulf Arab nations has withdrawn its representatives from the Arab League monitoring mission in Syria, the group said Tuesday.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said it took the step because of the persistence of bloodshed in Syria and a “lack of commitment” by the government to fully adhere to the plan it agreed to with the Arab League.

The bloc is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Saudi Arabia decided to pull out its monitors Sunday and the other countries in the bloc followed Tuesday.

An Arab League official in Cairo told CNN that 55 monitors from GCC countries have been withdrawn from the mission. The GCC called on other Arab countries to put pressure on Syria so it will implement Arab League decisions.

It is also calling for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — and other council members to ratchet up pressure on the regime. It wants the Security Council to support the Arab League’s Syrian initiative by passing a resolution.

The GCC has a lot of pull and power in the region. It brokered a presidential transition plan in Yemen and sent troops to Bahrain during the unrest there.

The 22-member Arab League has called on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities, and allow outsiders — including the international news media — to travel freely in Syria.

There are close to 100 monitors at present. Anwar Malek, a former Arab League monitor from Algeria who has criticized the mission, said he expected more monitors to withdraw after he slammed the effort earlier this month. He said snipers targeted his car after he spoke out.

“Not a single monitor I met was happy or felt safe on the ground,” Malek said.

The league voted Sunday to extend the monitoring mission while it works on a proposal for al-Assad to transfer power to his vice president following the formation of a national unity government.

The group’s plan calls for the government to start talks with the opposition within two weeks and for the formation of a new government within two months. A new constitutional council would follow, as would a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The proposal is the clearest statement yet from the Arab League on what the league’s member states would like to see happen in Syria. The league plans to take the idea to the United Nations in a bid to build international support.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Jasem Al Hamad sent a letter to the United Nations Tuesday requesting a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the league’s proposed national unity government for Syria, an Arab League official said. The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

The league does not want military intervention in tackling the crisis, but is requesting the support of the U.N. Security Council for its initiative, the official said.

El-Araby said the Syrian government has not complied with some parts of its agreement with the league aimed at ending the violence. But Arab League monitors have seen some aspects of the situation improve, he said.

“The presence of the Arab monitors provided security to opposition parties, which held an increase in number of peaceful protests… in the areas where the monitors were present,” el-Araby said.

The uprising against al-Assad’s regime, and the resulting government crackdown, have engulfed the country for more than 10 months. The United Nations last month estimated more than 5,000 people have died since March; opposition groups put the death toll at more than 6,000.

At least 37 people were killed in Syria Tuesday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Thirty of them died in Homs — 18 of them when two buildings were shelled in the city’s Bab Tadmur neighborhood. The other deaths occurred in Hama, Idlib and Damascus, the group said.

The Syrian government has categorically rejected the Arab League plan for the transfer of power. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the country is studying and considering an extension of the monitoring mission.

But he said the league report “violates the sovereignty of Syria.” He said the observer mission report, which showed that Syria fulfilled the mission’s protocol, was replaced with a “political report.”

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Damascus, Moallem said the solution to Syria’s problems “is a Syrian solution driven by Syrian interests,” which would be based on achieving al-Assad’s reform plan.

Moallem also repeated his government’s contention that the Syrian uprising is driven by a “conspiracy.” He said some Arab entities are “implanting the stages of the plot against Syria which they agreed upon abroad.”

“We are perfectly aware of the dimension of the conspiracy and we will deal with it firmly,” the foreign minister said, adding that “it is the duty of the Syrian government to deal seriously and firmly with armed elements.” Syria blames the bloodshed in the country on armed terrorists, and Moallem said since the mission’s arrival in Syria December 26, the number of armed groups sharply increased.

Moallem also noted that Iran has been a solid and supportive ally and that sanctions imposed on Syria have exacerbated the economic crisis and caused suffering.

Russia will also “not agree on the foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs and this is a red line,” Moallem said about the key member of the U.N. Security Council. “During talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Bugdanov, I sensed that the Russian stance is solid and no one can question the Russian-Syrian relations as they are deep-rooted.”