Arab League calls for international peacekeeping force in Syria


The Arab League on Sunday urged the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution setting up a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force to go to Syria and called for offering all forms of “political and material support” for the Syrian opposition.

The resolution did not make clear whether the proposed joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force would involve armed troops, as in previous U.N. missions.

If so, it would be the second time in less than a year the Arab League had called for outside intervention in an Arab state. Its decision to back a no-fly zone in Libya last March led to Western bombing that helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi.

The resolution also called for “opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it.” It also urged the Syrian opposition to unite.

The resolution said violence against civilians in Syria had violated international law and “perpetrators deserve punishment.” The resolution reaffirmed a call for Arabs to impose economic sanctions on Syria and decided on ending diplomatic cooperation with Damascus.

Al Arabiya television quoted Syrian Ambassador to Cairo, Yousef Ahmad, as saying that his country rejected the Arab decision “completely.”

“The Syrian Arab Republic completely rejects the Arab League’s decision issued today, and it [Syria] has stressed before that it is not concerned with any Arab League decision issued in its absence.”

Earlier, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called on the Arab League to “give all forms of support” to the Syrian opposition and take decisive measures against the Syrian regime.

“How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal asked ministers at the start of the League session.

“At our meeting today I call for decisive measures, after the failure of the half-solutions,” he said. “The Arab League should ... open all channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and give all forms of support to it.”

The Saudi minister criticized the Security Council’s failure to back the Arab plan for Syria but did not name Russia and China. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Arabi said the veto, cause of much Arab frustration, exposed the failings of the Council’s voting system.

Arab ministers met in Cairo to revive diplomatic efforts after the Arab initiative that called for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside was stalled by the double veto in New York.

As part of the Arab efforts also, Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on Feb. 24 of a “Friends of Syria” contact group made up of Arab and other states and backed by Western powers.

“The Syrian people deserve freedom as much as their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab states that witnessed major political change,” Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Ben Adessalam told ministers.

He announced that Tunisia would host the meeting of “Friends of Syria,” a plan proposed by France and the United States after Russia and China blocked the Security Council resolution.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the new forum would provide “a good opportunity to try to create a clear international direction to help the Syrian people to exit the crisis”.

The Egyptian news agency said Arabi had proposed appointing former Jordanian minister and U.N. envoy to Libya, Abdel Elah al-Khatib, as the League’s special envoy to Syria.

Diplomats at the United Nations said Saudi Arabia had circulated a new draft resolution backing the Arab plan for the General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, to consider. Assembly resolutions are non-binding but cannot be vetoed.

However, Riyadh denied on Sunday reports that it had formally presented the resolution to the assembly.