(Updates with Syrian soldiers killed in fifth paragraph.)
Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The Arab League suspended its observer mission in Syria as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pressed on with attacks against protesters strengthened by army defectors.
The 22-member group halted the mission due to “the grave deterioration of the situation in Syria, and the continuation of violence and exchange of shelling and shooting,” the group’s secretary-general, Nabil El-Arabi, said in a statement yesterday. “The Arab League decided to immediately stop the work of its observers’ mission in Syria until submitting the issue to the council of the Arab League for review.”
The suspension of a regional mission that aimed to end the violence and allow for a political resolution to unrest that has left about 5,000 dead may add to pressure on the international community to find a solution. The Arab League had proposed a power-transfer plan for Syria that has been sent to the United Nations as they seek to end the violence in the country.
“The suspension helps guarantee that the Arab League will be able to successfully argue that a resolution needs to be passed and that the UN should start thinking about getting involved militarily,” according to Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Six Syrian soldiers were killed when a “terrorist group” detonated a bomb on a road outside of Damascus, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported today, citing an unidentified military official. Six others were wounded in the attack, the news service said.
Syrian security forces killed seven today, Al-Jazeera television reported, citing activists. Sixty-five Syrians were killed yesterday in violence across the country, the news service said. In addition, at least 20 unidentified corpses were recovered in the national hospital of Hama, according to the network.
El-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani plan to travel to New York and present Syria’s dossier to the Security Council on Jan. 31. A draft council resolution affirms a transition plan put forward by the Arab League calling for a national unity government within two months to implement a handover of power.
Syria has rejected the Arab League proposal saying it infringes on the country’s sovereignty while Russia has opposed Security Council efforts to take action against Syria.
The Security Council on Jan. 27 discussed a revised draft resolution calling on Assad to transfer power to his deputy. Previous language, which urged Assad to abandon power to pave the way for “fair elections,” was replaced with a call for him to hand over “full authority” to his deputy and for the “formation of a national unity government,” according to the draft obtained by Bloomberg News.
Eleven months into the unrest, the European Union and the U.S. have yet to overcome Russia’s resistance at the UN’s decision-making body to hold Assad responsible for the crackdown.
Assad’s security forces maintained their efforts to crush demonstrations even after the Cairo-based organization sent observers to Syria on Dec. 26. The monitors tried to ensure that Assad followed through on his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti- government demonstrations.
“The Syrian regime has little time left,” Paul Sullivan, a specialist in Middle East security at Georgetown University in Washington, said in an e-mail. “The clock is ticking. If it were not for Iranian and Russian help, Bashar would have been out already most likely.”
Assad’s government has blamed “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs for fomenting the protests.
More than 100 people were killed in clashes Jan. 27, the bloodiest day since the uprising started in March, Al Jazeera reported, citing activists.
Syria said it was surprised by the Arab League decision after agreeing to allow the mission in the country for another month, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported yesterday, citing an unidentified government official.
The Syrian government controls access to the country for journalists and the death tolls cited by activists aren’t independently verifiable.
--With assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson in the United Nations and Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid, Ian Katz and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Ann Hughey, Louis Meixler, Paul Jarvis.
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