Syria extends Arab League mandate following Gulf monitor withdrawal


Syria has agreed to extend for one month the mandate of the Arab League observer mission, state news agency SANA quoted the interior ministry as saying on Tuesday.

“Foreign Minister Walid Muallem sent a letter tonight to the secretary general of the Arab League informing him of the Syrian government's agreement to extend the observer mission for one month, from January 24 until February 23, 2012,” SANA said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said on Tuesday it had decided to withdraw its monitors from an Arab League mission to Syria, prompting Arab states to consider the withdrawal of the whole mission.

The six GCC states called on “members of the U.N. Security Council ... to take all needed measures at the Security Council to press Syria to implement the Arab League decisions and the Arab initiative on Syria,” the monarchies said in a joint statement.

Following GCC’s decision, the Arab League planned to discuss pulling out the whole mission, Sudan’s envoy to the Arab League, Kamal Hassan Ali told Reuters.

“The meeting of representatives today will discuss the fate of the monitoring mission, whether it continues or withdraws,” Ali said.

Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy secretary general of the League, said the meeting would discuss latest developments in Syria but would not give further details.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia said it was pulling its monitors from the Arab League’s heavily criticized observer’s mission in Syria, which has been extended for another month, because Damascus had not kept its promises.

“My country will withdraw its monitors because the Syrian government did not execute any of the elements of the Arab resolution plan,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo. The statement was obtained by Reuters after he spoke.

“We are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States,” Prince Saud said, calling for “all possible pressure” to push Syria to adhere to the Arab peace plan.

Prince Saud’s stamen followed a decision to extend the Arab League’s observer mission Syria for another month during a meeting by Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital, where they decided to add more members to the mission and provide them with more resources.

But the general who headed the Arab monitoring mission in Syria said on Monday that violence in the country had dipped after the observers arrived.

“After the arrival of the mission, the intensity of violence began to decrease,” Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi told a news conference at the Cairo-based Arab League.

Activists contradicted his accounts and posting videos on the internet showing recent incidents in which Syrian military vehicles pounded residential areas and various cities.

Dabi’s appointment as head of the Arab mission was heavily criticized by the opposition as well as international rights groups who accuse him of involvement in crimes committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

The U.S.-based Enough Project created to fight genocide and crimes against humanity called Dabi’s appointment as “perplexing” given “his record of turning a blind eye to human rights crimes, or worse,” reported The Sudan Tribune.

The online publication quoted the group’s Sudan analyst Omer Ismail as saying that “alleged war crimes were committed on Dabi’s watch when he was serving as former head of the military intelligence.”

Syria tells Arab League to head to “the moon”

Syria, meanwhile, said on Tuesday it will spurn further Arab efforts to resolve its political crisis.

The Arab League said its monitors would be confined to base from Wednesday unless Damascus gives its approval for the mission to continue for a second month after an informal extension ran out.

“Enough of the Arab solutions from now,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said, accusing the Arabs of “plotting” to internationalize the crisis and taking decisions while “knowing that they will be rejected” by Damascus.

“Heading to the Security Council will be the third stage in their plan, and the only thing left is the last step of internationalization,” Muallem told a news conference in Damascus.

“They can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern.”

His remarks came after the pan-Arab bloc called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy and to clear the way for a unity government within two months, in a surprise weekend announcement.

“We do not want Arab solutions. We said that two days ago when we refused the initiative and when the ministers’ council decided to turn to the Security Council,” said Muallem. “We categorically refused (this proposal).

“The solution is a Syrian one based on the interests of the Syrian people... based on the completion of the reform program proposed by President Bashar al-Assad,” he told a televised news conference.