Syrian president relies on close aides, as he faces the toughest challenge to 40-years of Assad family rule.
Syria has condemned a new Arab League initiative that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to cede power by holding early elections and forming a “unity government”.
The Arab League has called on Assad to delegate power to his vice-president and for elections to be held under a “national unity government”, the latest step in a diplomatic effort to end 10 months of political violence in Syria.
“Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs,” Syrian state television quoted a government official as saying on Monday.
The source also said that the resolution was part of a conspiracy against the Syrian people.
The Arab League’s members agreed to a political initiative that would call for a unity government and early elections to end the Syrian crisis, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, said, after a meeting on Sunday of the 22-member body in Cairo, where the headquarters of the Arab League is located.
The new plan envisioned the “peaceful departure of the Syrian regime” and resembled the arrangement in Yemen, where Gulf states convinced Ali Abdullah Saleh, the outgoing president, to delegate power and leave the country, he said.
Peter Wittig, Germany’s UN ambassador, said on Monday he had sent a letter to the president of the Security Council, the South African ambassador Baso Sangqu, to invite Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League secretary-general, to brief the UN body on the situation in Syria later this week.
A senior Security Council diplomat said that Western delegations on the 15-nation body would meet later on Monday with their Gulf Arab counterparts to discuss possible next steps.
Security Council support
The Syrian rejection of the Arab League initiative came as opposition activists said thousands of people poured into the streets on Monday in a suburb outside the capital, Damascus, to mourn 11 residents who were killed a day earlier.
The crowd in Douma – which one activist said was 60,000-strong – was under the protection of dozens of army defectors who are in control of the area after government forces pulled out late on Sunday, Samer al-Omar, a Douma resident, said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said troops and army defectors clashed on Monday near the western town of Qusair, close to the Lebanese border.
The opposition group said five soldiers were killed and 13 were wounded.
The SOHR also said that 11 civilians were killed by security forces in different parts of Syria, five of them in the northwestern province of Idlib, that borders Turkey.
The LCC, another Syrian opposition group, put Monday’s death toll at 10.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
In his statements in Cairo on Sunday, Sheikh Hamad said the Arab League’s observer mission would be extended, and that the monitors would be given additional equipment after the head of the team, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, said he wanted his mandate to be strengthened.
“We understand that al-Dabi has said to the Syrian committee that the mission has not gained enough momentum yet to get a full judgement on it,” Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reported from Cairo on Monday,
“He said that he needed more time with the added monitors that he’s received in recent weeks and the added geographical places in which the monitoring mission is now extended to see if this mission can in fact work.”
‘Dip in violence’
Speaking in Cairo on Monday, Dabi said that violence in Syria dipped after the observers arrived.
“After the arrival of the mission, the intensity of violence began to decrease,” he said. “The mission’s role is monitoring and is not stopping the killing or stopping the destruction or otherwise.”
Dabi also maintained that “heavy military equipment” was removed from “all cities” in Syria.
The opposition activist group, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said on Sunday that at least 840 Syrians have been killed since December 23, when Arab League observers entered Syria.
In a written statement, a spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the Arab League had failed to limit the bloodshed or oversee the implementation of its own peace plan.
Critics say the Arab mission has only provided diplomatic cover for Assad to pursue a crackdown that has already killed more than 5,000 people since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011, according to a UN count.
In another development on Monday, EU foreign ministers tightened sanctions against Syria, adding 22 people and eight entities to a list of banned people and groups.
They also reiterated that Assad’s crackdown against protesters was unacceptable.
The individuals concerned were responsible for human rights violations and the entities supported Assad’s government, the EU officials said in a statement issued after a meeting in Brussels.
Those proscribed will have their assets frozen and the individuals will be banned from entering the European Union.
“The message from the European Union is clear,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said. “The crackdown must stop immediately.”
The latest tightening of EU measures brings the total number of Syrian entities targeted by an asset freeze to 38 and the number of individuals subject to an asset freeze and visa ban to 108.
However, Syria appeared to have got a serious boost from allies in Russia. Russia’s business daily, Kommersant, reported on Monday that Russia has signed a contract to sell 36 Yak-130 combat jets to Syria.