Arab League urges joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission in Syria
Resolution calls on UN security council to send monitors to Syria as Arab League decides to scrap its own mission to the country
The Arab League has called for the UN security council to send a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria as it decided to scrap its own monitoring team, according to a resolution approved by ministers.
The resolution called for "opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it", according to the final resolution drawn up at a meeting in Cairo. It also urged the Syrian opposition to unite.
The resolution said violence against civilians in Syria had violated international law and "perpetrators deserve punishment". The resolution reaffirmed a call for Arabs to impose economic sanctions on Syria and decided on ending diplomatic co-operation with Damascus.
The stepping up of diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed came as Saudi Arabia advocated giving all forms of support to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on 24 February of a Friends of Syria contact group made up of Arab and other states and backed by the west.
"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?" the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, said at the start of the Arab League session.
"At our meeting today 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.
Crowds attended the funerals of some of the 28 people killed in bombings of two military sites in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday – attacks the government cited as proof of its contention that it is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.
International efforts to resolve the crisis, among the bloodiest of Arab revolts that overthrew leaders in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia last year, reached an impasse on 4 February when Russia and China blocked a western-backed Arab peace plan at the UN security council that called for Assad to step down.
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.
The Arab League's secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, said he was proposing a new joint Arab-UN monitoring team to Syria. He 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.
Tunisia's foreign minister, Rafik Ben Abdessalam, told ministers that his country would host a meeting of Friends of Syria, a plan proposed by France and the US after Russia and China blocked the security council resolution.
"The Syrian people deserve freedom as much as their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab states that witnessed major political change," he said.
Ministers from Gulf Arab states, which have been leading the drive to isolate Assad and end the crackdown on the protests against his 11-year rule, met separately earlier.
A source who attended the Gulf meeting said ministers had discussed recognising the opposition Syrian National Council and would propose that Arab states each take such a step.
In Homs, shelling had eased during Saturday night and Sunday morning before Assad's forces renewed their rocket barrages. At least four people were killed, activists said.
Activist reports are hard to verify independently but form the basis for reporting the conflict as the Syrian government has restricted western media access to much of the country.
At least 300 people are said to have been killed in the past week in mostly Sunni Muslim opposition areas, food and medicine are running short, and people had been trapped indoors for days by relentless artillery and sniper fire, residents said.
Meanwhile, the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged Syrians not to rely on the west or Arab governments in their uprising.
"You know better what they are planning against you. Our people in Syria, don't depend on the Arab League and its corrupt governments supporting it," Zawahri said in a video recording posted on the internet.
He described Assad as a butcher and urged Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to come to the aid of the rebels.
In Aleppo, mourners gathered for the funerals of 28 soldiers and civilians killed in bomb attacks on two military and security facilities on Friday.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. The government has blamed previous such attacks in Damascus on al-Qaida.