Arab League meets in Cairo over Syria

Regional bloc to explore alternative measures to defuse crisis after failing to reach deal on sending monitors.

    Arab ministers would explore new measures, including economic sanctions, to defuse the situation in Syria [Reuters]

    Members of the Arab League have convened in Cairo to discuss the escalating crisis in Syria in the wake of President Bashar al-Assad's refusal to end a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

    Thursday's meeting of the regional bloc would explore alternative measures, including economic sanctions, to defuse the situation in Syria after it failed to clinch an agreement with Damascus on sending a 500-strong mission of monitors to the country.

    In rejecting the monitoring mission, Walid al-Mouallem, the Syrian foreign minister, had said the planned mission placed "impossible conditions" and gave the monitors too much authority that infringed on Syria's sovereignty.

    Ahead of the meeting, Lebanon said it will not endorse any potential sanctions against Syria.

    "Lebanon will not endorse any sanctions by the Arab League against Syria," Adnan Mansur, the Lebanese foreign minister, told a local radio.

    "We will decide whether to vote against or abstain depending on the talks in Cairo."

    More deaths reported

    Protesters have been rallying against Assad's one-party rule since March, braving the much-criticised security crackdown.

    Activists said at least two people were killed in the central city of Homs on Thursday, adding to the toll of 41 people reportedly killed across the country earlier this week.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy machinegun fire blasted the city of Rastan following a
    one-hour clash early on Thursday between soldiers and army defectors.

    The UN says more than 3,500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the start of the uprising.

    Members of the Syrian opposition have been meeting world leaders, urging further action against Assad's government.

    Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, met leaders of the opposition Syrian National Council on Wednesday, describing the exiled group as " the legitimate partner with which we want to work".

    Juppe said France would also seek EU-backing for humanitarian corridors in Syria "to alleviate the suffering of the population".

    However, he ruled out the possibility of military intervention to create a "buffer zone" in the north of the country.

    UN condemnation

    International pressure has been mounting on Syria, with the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee condemning the crackdown in a vote on Tuesday.

    The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, received 122 votes in favour, 13 against and 41 abstentions.

    Arab states that voted for it included co-sponsors Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt.

    Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted resolution that would have condemned Syria in the UN Security Council last month, abstained.

    Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, said the resolution had no meaning for his country and portrayed it as a US-inspired political move.

    "Despite the fact that the draft resolution was basically presented by three European states, however it is no secret that the United States of America is ... the main mind behind the political campaign against my country," he said.

    "This draft resolution has no relevance to human rights, other than it is part of an adversarial American policy against my country."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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