Syria unrest: Arab League urges Assad to reform

The Arab League has called for a national unity government in Syria, aimed at ending the bloodshed in the country

The Arab League has outlined a series of reforms it wants Syria to undertake to end the violence in the country.

After a meeting in Cairo, the league called on the Syrian authorities to form a national unity government to include the opposition in two months.

It said both sides should end the bloodshed, urging President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy.

Syria's state TV quoted an unnamed Syrian official as saying that Damascas had rejected the power transfer plan.

"Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty," the official said, according to the AFP news agency.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Arabia said it was pulling out of the league's 165-strong monitoring mission in Syria because Damascus had broken promises on peace initiatives.

While the Arab League ministers said they were extending the controversial mission for another month, analysts say the Saudi decision has thrown its longer-term future into serious doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the key funders of the league's projects, but the monitors have been criticised for failing to stop the violence.

The Arab League is now increasingly split about what could be done to resolve the Syrian crisis, the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Damascus reports.

With the Syrians rejecting the conditions of the initiative, the Arab League's roadmap is effectively in tatters, our correspondent says.

Meanwhile, violence has continued in Syria, with activists reporting battles between government troops and army defectors in Damascus' suburb of Douma on Sunday.

At least five people were killed, according to Syria's Local Coordination Committees.

Activists say almost 1,000 people have been killed since the monitoring mission began in December.

'No military intervention'

At the start of the Arab League meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal urged the international community to step in and put pressure on Damascus.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the league's foreign ministers spent five hours trying to resolve growing differences in their ranks over Syria.

Arab League

  • Founded: 1945
  • Headquarters: Cairo, Egypt
  • Key players: Egypt, Saudi Arabia
  • Membership: 22 states
  • Population: About 300 million
  • Area: 5.25 million square miles

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani read out a statement agreed by the ministers laying out an ambitious plan of political reform.

It called on President Assad to delegate power to his vice-president to engage in proper dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, and form a government of national unity in two months.

The league said this should eventually lead to multi-party elections overseen by international observers.

"The new Arab initiative adopted by the foreign ministers envisages the peaceful departure of the Syrian regime," Sheikh Hamad said, in a quote translated by the AFP news agency.

Jeremy Bowen met pro-Assad supporters at a demo in Damascus

He said the league would seek the support of the UN Security Council for the changes.

But he added: "We're not talking about military intervention."

Syria has been wrecked by unrest since last March, when protesters gathered calling for reform.

Sporadic government crackdowns have followed, and the UN says more than 5,000 have died.

The government in Damascus says it is fighting "terrorists and armed gangs" and claims that some 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

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