Unabated violence in Syria could prompt the Arab League to pull its monitors from the country as early as this weekend – a move that would almost certainly ratchet up the pressure for broader international measures against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The Arab League plans to hold an emergency session Saturday to decide the fate of its monitoring teams, which arrived in Syria last week as part of a deal with the Assad government aimed at quelling a nine-month-old uprising. The United Nations estimates the violence has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths.
Anticipating the Arab League’s meeting, diplomats from South Africa, which this week assumed the one-month revolving presidency of the United Nations Security Council, announced Wednesday that the council will meet on Syria next week to assess the Arab League’s decision and to discuss possible action.
The Syrian government does appear to have pulled some heavy weaponry from opposition cities as called for in the Assad government’s deal with the Arab League. But pressure is building for the League to cut short a monitoring mission that was supposed to last a month, with some League officials charging that the mission is for the most part providing cover for government forces to pursue their repression of antiregime protesters.
The United States and other Western powers are blaming the Assad regime for preventing the Arab League from doing its work and appear to be paving the way toward trying again for the kind of international action against Mr. Assad that they have been seeking for months.
“The violence hasn’t stopped, far from it,” said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
“People remain locked up, and ... in some cases, the regime is actually putting out its own false reports that monitors are on the way, demonstrators come into the streets, and then they fire on them,” she said Tuesday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has also dispatched the assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, to Cairo to consult with Arab League officials before their meeting Saturday.
Ms. Nuland says the US will await the Arab League’s decision on the future of the monitoring mission before deciding its next steps, but at the White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is “past time” for the UN Security Council to act on Syria.
“We have made clear that if the Arab League initiative is not implemented, the international community will have to consider new measures to compel a halt to the regime’s violence against its own citizens,” Mr. Carney said.
France this week cast doubt on the effectiveness of the monitors – with opposition forces claiming that more than 150 Syrians have died since the mission arrived – and repeated demands that the Security Council take action.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that the “massacres” committed by the Assad regime were arousing “disgust and revolt” among Arabs and “everywhere in the world,” and he repeated the demand of world leaders including President Obama that Assad “must leave power.”
But at the UN in New York, this month’s president of the Security Council, South African Ambassador Baso Sagqu, told journalists Wednesday that his country’s emphasis has been on condemning “the violence on all sides in Syria” – an indication that council action against the Assad regime may not be on the fast track.
Ambassador Sagqu noted that beside next Tuesday’s consultations on Syria, the council still has “on the table” a Russian resolution dealing with the Syrian violence.
Russia’s resolution has gone nowhere, however. The French and others have criticized it for taking the Assad regime’s position that the opposition it faces is composed of armed criminals, and for failing to include any punitive measures against the regime for pursuing its repression.
As a standoff between Russia and China on one side and Western powers on the other has continued, the US has been encouraging the European Union and others among Syria’s trading partners to take their own action against the Assad regime.