Middle East

Syria unrest: Arab League 'seeks peacekeeping mission'

Empty Syrian seat at Arab League meeting in Cairo
Image caption Syria's membership of the Arab League has already been suspended

The Arab League is calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end the 11-month conflict in Syria.

In a resolution seen by the BBC but not yet officially released, it scrapped its observer team, suspended last month, and said it was ending all diplomatic co-operation with Syria.

Damascus "categorically rejected" the resolution, a Syrian envoy said.

The League's moves come a week after a UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by Russia and China.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Cairo says the resolution contains the toughest language on Syria by the Arab League so far and makes it much more likely that the issue will return to the Security Council.

The fact that they are considering these moves shows the extent of the Syrian regime's isolation, our correspondent adds.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow will continue to ride diplomatic shotgun for its old allies and trading partners, he says.

Earlier, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri backed the Syrian uprising in a video message, telling the opposition not to rely on the West or Arab countries for support.

Meanwhile the bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs was reported to have continued after a brief lull on Saturday night and Sunday morning, with activists saying four people had been killed.

Human rights groups say more than 7,000 have died throughout Syria since March. The government says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed combating "armed gangs and terrorists".


A statement issued by the League after the Cairo meeting said it would "ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire".

It said it was ending its observer mission, sent in December but suspended in January amid criticism that it was ineffective in the face of continuing violence.

The head of the mission, the controversial Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, submitted his resignation earlier on Sunday.

The League also called for "opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it", and urged opposition groups to be more united.

It held the Syrian government responsible for the protection of civilians, and said their killing was a crime which must be punished.

A representative of the League told the BBC the resolution had been agreed to by a majority of the foreign ministers.

But the Syrian ambassador in Cairo, Yusuf Ahmed, rejected the resolution, saying it "reflected the hysteria of these governments" after they failed to get UN Security Council support.

'Move swiftly'

Opening the meeting, the League's Secretary General, Nabil al-Arabi, said the failure of international diplomacy had put a special responsibility on the league.

"It is imperative for us to move swiftly in all directions, to halt the vicious cycle of violence," he said in his opening words to the meeting.

The UN General Assembly is scheduled to discuss Syria on Monday.

There is no power of veto at the General Assembly but its resolutions have no legal force, unlike those of the Security Council.

There were reports of a respite in the bombardment of Homs on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Shelling later resumed, but the lull was enough to allow some people to get out and queue for bread.

At least four people were killed in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of the city on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights said. At least 35 died on Saturday.

Activists say more than 400 people have been killed since security forces launched an assault on opposition-held areas on the city last Saturday.

Separately, Syrian state TV showed pictures of funerals of car bomb victims in the country's second city Aleppo.

The government says 28 people were killed in two attacks in the city on Friday.

Uprising activists have condemned such attacks, and blamed them on the regime itself, but US officials are reported to believe they were the work of al-Qaeda.

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