Arabs redouble attempt to end Syria conflict

Ministers discuss mission with UN

Arab ministers stepped up diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria on Sunday and Saudi Arabia advocated giving all forms of support to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

At a Arab League meeting in Cairo, Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on February 24 of “Friends of Syria” contact group made up of Arab and other states and backed by the West. Ministers also proposed sending a joint Arab-UN monitoring team to Syria, replacing an Arab mission beset by problems since it began work in December.

“How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal asked ministers at the start of the League session.

“At our meeting on Sunday, I call for decisive measures, after the failure of the half-solutions,” he said. “The Arab League should... open all channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and give all forms of support to it.”
He did not specify if that support should include military aid. Western powers have shunned military action, despite widespread condemnation of the repression of the uprising, in which thousands have been killed since it erupted last March.

In the besieged Syrian town of Homs, sporadic rocket and gunfire broke a respite in government bombardments of opposition held neighbourhoods, killing at least four people, according to the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Chief observer quits

Sunday’s meeting in Cairo opened with the resignation of the Sudanese general who led an Arab League peace mission to Syria in December, Mohammed al-Dabi. He had been a controversial figure because of his country’s own poor human rights record.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said he was proposing a new joint Arab-UN monitoring team to Syria. Elaraby told Reuters last week that any new mission would have to be bigger and better equipped and with a different mandate.
The idea of a joint Arab-UN mission has won only a tepid response from UN diplomats.

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