As the Arab League meets to review its Syria mission, we ask what its next move should be.
The Arab League has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to his vice president and for elections to be held under a “national unity government,” the latest steps in a slow-moving diplomatic effort to end 10 months of bloody uprising.
The bloc’s members agreed on Sunday to a political initiative that would call for a unity government and early elections to end the crisis, the Qatari prime minister said after a meeting of the 22-member body in Cairo.
The new plan envisions the “peaceful departure of the Syrian regime” and resembles the arrangement in Yemen, where Gulf nations convinced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to delegate power and leave the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said.
Al Thani said the League will ask the United Nations Security Council to support its plan for transition.
“After the establishment of the government of national unity, there has to be a referendum and preparation for new elections. The Arab League’s Secretary-General is to send a new special envoy to Syria, and will call on the international community to support this national unity government to fulfill its functions,” he said.
He also reiterated the Arab League’s demands that the violence in Syria be brought to an end, that political detainees be released, that the Syrian military pull out of cities and that citizens be allowed to demonstrate peacefully.
The League has called on the opposition and government to being a new round of dialogue “within two weeks”.
Al-Thani said that while the League was taking its case to the Security Council, it was not in favour of an international military intervention.
“We are looking into an Arab solution for this. We are not looking for a military intervention. The decision was by consensus, except Algeria which had some reservations. Lebanon has abstained, and we appreciate their situation there and we thank them for their cooperation,” he said.
He also announced that the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria would be extended, and that the observers would be given additional equipment.
Nabil ElAraby, the League’s secretary-general, said that Syria had not fulfilled its obligations, and that is why the observers’ mission was being extended.
Saudi pulls out monitors
Earlier, Saudi Arabia has said it was pulling out its observers from the Arab League observer mission to Syria because Damascus had not kept its promises.
Riyadh “is withdrawing from the mission because the Syrian government has not respected any of the clauses” in the Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis there, said Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister.
The move came as foreign ministers of the pan-Arab body met to hear the recommendations of a League panel that the organisation extend its monitoring mission to Syria by a month.
The panel was briefed earlier on the first month of the monitoring mission by its chief, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan. Dabi wants his mandate to be strengthened, not scrapped, a League official had said.
“We understand that al-Dabi has said to the Syrian committee that the mission has not gained enough momentum yet to get a full judgment on it, he needs 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,” reporeted Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna from Cairo.
The meeting comes amid reports of clashes between Syrian government troops and army defectors in Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, on Saturday night and into Sunday.
“Apparently there were some clashes between the regime’s army and the FSA [Free Syrian Army] but the FSA has gone back to its positions,” Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) activist network, told Al Jazeera.
She said there had been an explosion in the area, apparently targeting a riot police vehicle.
“Activists are reporting heavy clashes between members of the Free Syrian Army and regular troops in Douma. It’s a suburb of Damascus – one of the biggest suburbs [and] has been a protest hub for some time now, and it seems that the FSA is gaining strength in that region,” reported Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr from Beirut on Sunday afternoon.
“Last night there were conflicting that the Syrian security forces were forced to retreat because of resistance from the FSA. What is clear is that neither side is in control [of the area].”
Anti-Assad activist groups say that security forces have been firing on anti-government protesters in several locations around Damascus on Sunday, including Rankous and Douma, and in Karm al-Zaitoun in Homs.
Activists say that hundreds of people have been killed since the monitors arrived in Syria, with some reporting the deaths of as many as 740 civilians in the last month.
Critics say the Arab mission has only provided diplomatic cover for President Bashar al-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.
Monitors’ head ‘satisfied’
The mission’s chief, General al-Dabi of Sudan, is satisfied with the observers’ achievements so far, the mission’s deputy chief of operations, Ali Jarush, said.
“Everything indicates the observer mission in Syria will be extended by a month,” Jarush said.
“Dabi sees that in the last phase the necessary thrust [of the operation] was achieved after more monitors were deployed and fanned across 20 areas and after they were provided with equipment and logistics which they previously lacked.”
Syria’s main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said, however that Dabi’s report would not be credible.
Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the SNC, said he told Elaraby in Cairo, the Arab League’s headquarters, that the conditions under which the observers were forced to work “do not allow it to present an objective report, reflecting the actual situation in Syria”.
The League’s monitors were escorted around Syria by government troops.
The SNC formally asked the Arab League on Saturday to refer the Syrian crisis to the UN Security Council.
“We think that when the Arab League refers the case to the United Nations and to the Security Council the situation will change,” Basma ElKadamny, an SNC spokesperson, said in Cairo.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said: “the opposition is arguing that the monitoring mission has not succeeded in persuading the Syrian government to follow along with the peace plans which involved a number of steps: the removal of military from urban centres, the release of all detainees and end to the crackdown on the opposition.”