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Arab League suspends mission in Syria amid rising violence

January 28, 2012 | 10:54 am

Syria (5)
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The Arab League said Saturday it was suspending its observer mission in Syria amid escalating violence that has left scores dead in recent days.

The decision is the latest sign that the crisis in Syria is worsening as diplomats at the United Nations consider an Arab League-backed plan that calls on President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.

In a statement, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby cited the “critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence” as the reason for suspending the monitoring operation.

The monitors went into Syria last month hoping that their presence could help stanch the bloodshed that began in March when pro-democracy protesters rose up against the Assad government. The monitors’ task was to ensure that the government was complying with a league-backed peace blueprint that, among other things, called for the regime to withdraw troops from cities and other populated areas.

But in recent days, the violence appears to have risen on both sides and the observers have found it hard to do their job.

The 100 or so monitors will remain in Syria but won’t make field visits to trouble spots, the league said. The league left open the possibility that the mission could resume.

It was unclear from the league’s statement if the mission was suspended because of safety concerns or displeasure at stepped-up government attacks, notably against opposition hot spots such as the central cities of Homs and Hama and various Damascus suburbs. The Syrian government has insisted it must respond to what it calls "terrorist" attacks.

The league has been harshly critical of Assad, and six Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, last week withdrew their monitors and excoriated the government for what the six monarchies called Syria’s continued reliance on force.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube shows a Syrian demonstrator holding a sign reading "Victory is coming, God willing" during an anti-regime protest in the central city of Karnaz  on Saturday. Credit: AFP photo/YouTube