The Arab League has suspended its monitoring mission due to “critical” deteriorating conditions and rising violence in Syria, which is grappling with a 10-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, announced the decision in a statement on Saturday.
“It has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League’s mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league’s council,” he said.
The bloc said around 100 observers would remain in the country but would not undertake new missions.
Syria said it regretted and was surprised by the Arab League decision, official state television said on Saturday.
“Syria regrets and is surprised at the Arab decision to stop the work of its monitoring mission after it asked for a one- month extension of its work,” Syria Television reported in an urgent news flash.
State TV said it was an attempt to influence the UN Security Council and increase pressure for foreign intervention.
“This will have a negative impact and put pressure on [Security Council] deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence,” the news flash said.
Rising death toll
The mission was set up in December to monitor Damascus’ compliance with an Arab League plan to end a bloody crackdown by Assad’s government.
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The bloc extended the 165-member mission after its first month, but Gulf Arab states later withdrew their monitors.
The mission has been widely criticised by the Syrian opposition for failing to bring a halt to the government’s crackdown on protests.
Opposition activists say that at least 98 people have been killed across the country on Saturday, most of whom were in Homs and Hama. In one incident 20 dead bodies were reportedly found inside a hospital building.
Meanwhile, there have been witness reports of fierce clashes on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, and heavy shelling in the Baba Amr neighbourhood in the restive city of Homs.
Arab peace plan
The Arab League also confirmed on Saturday that it was holding talks with Russia, one of the main opponents of the bloc’s peace plan.
The talks come ahead of a United Nations meeting in the coming days.
The Arab League and Western countries are pushing for a UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution on Syria – although Russia opposes the move.
The Arab League chief and Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani are set to leave for New York on Saturday to discuss and seek UN support for the latest Arab plan to end Syria’s crisis.
The plan calls for a two-month transition to a unity government, with Assad giving his vice-president full powers to work with the proposed government.
Russia, which joined China in vetoing a previous resolution in October, said the draft was unacceptable in its present form, but said it was willing to “engage” on it. Syria has rejected the proposal, saying it violates its sovereignty.
The Security Council discussed a draft European-Arab resolution on Friday aimed at halting the violence.
The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March when protests erupted against Assad’s rule.