Monitors in Syria step aside
Arab League observers remain in country
BEIRUT – The Arab League said Saturday it was suspending its observer mission in Syria amid escalating violence that has left scores dead in recent days.
The decision is the latest sign that the 10-month-old crisis in Syria is worsening as diplomats at the United Nations prepare to consider a league-backed plan calling on President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.
In a statement, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby cited the “critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence” as the reason for suspending the monitoring operation.
The monitors went into Syria last month amid some hopes that their presence could help stanch the bloodshed that began in March when pro-democracy protesters rose up against the Assad government. The monitors’ task was to ensure that the government was complying with a league-backed peace blueprint that, among other things, called for the regime to withdraw troops from cities and other populated areas.
Some opposition activists have dismissed the observer operation as a means for Assad to buy more time for his beleaguered administration. Still, the observers were welcomed when they arrived last month.
But in recent days, the violence appears to have flared on both sides and the observers have found it hard to do their job.
The 100 or so monitors will remain in Syria but won’t make field visits to trouble spots, the league said, leaving open the possibility that the mission could resume.
It was unclear from the league’s statement if the mission was suspended because of safety concerns or displeasure at stepped-up government attacks, notably in opposition centers such as the cities of Homs and Hama and various suburbs of the capital, Damascus. The Syrian government has said it must respond to what it calls “terrorist” attacks.
The league has been harshly critical of Assad, and six Persian Gulf nations recently withdrew their monitors and excoriated the government for what the six monarchies called Syria’s continued reliance on force.
The Syrian government on Saturday assailed the decision to suspend the monitor mission, labeling it “an escalation against Syria that reflects the persistence of some member countries in supporting armed terrorist groups,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.