The league expects Syrian President Bashar Assad to respond with "concrete steps," Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheik Hamad ibn Jassim ibn Al-Thani, told reporters after a ministerial delegation met with Syrian representatives Sunday in Doha, Qatar's capital.
"The entire region is at risk of a massive storm," he said.
Many fear the violence in Syria could degenerate into a civil war, with reverberations for the entire region. Assad has vowed to resist any Libya-style foreign intervention. Protesters have demanded his ouster and said dialogue is not possible with his government, but the Arab League says it wants to foster dialogue to break the deadlock.
In an interview Sunday with Russian television, Assad cited an "external plot" abetting "armed operations against the state," with weapons arriving across Syria’s borders. But he declined to name any countries facilitating shipments of arms into the country, which he said included anti-tank weapons.
Among the steps demanded by the Arab League was the removal of that Syrian tanks from city streets, Agence France-Presse reported.
The Syrian opposition says security men have routinely opened fire on peaceful protesters, causing more than 3,000 deaths since demonstrations erupted in March. But dissidents acknowledge that the rebellion also has an armed component, including military defectors.
The government blames armed groups and terrorists for a campaign of sabotage, bombings, ambushes and assassinations that it says has killed more than 1,000 police, soldiers and other security personnel.
"Were they killed through peaceful protests?” Assad asked in the Russian television interview. “Were they killed by the shouting during the protests? Or were they killed by weapons? So, we are dealing with armed people. Now the matter is clear.”
— Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar Assad march through the streets in Hula, near Homs, after prayers last Friday. Credit: Handout / Reuters