Syrian security forces pounded parts of the restive governorate of Homs as the Arab League called for the formation of an Arab-United Nations peacekeeping force.
The league said yesterday it will ask the UN Security Council to authorize a joint mission “to supervise implementation of a cease-fire,” according to a league statement given to reporters in Cairo. It would replace an Arab League observation mission that was suspended as violence against protesters continued. Syria rejected the decision.
Government forces resumed shelling the city of Rastan in Homs, using heavy artillery and machine guns, after halting their attacks around 3 a.m., the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. More than 20 people were killed yesterday, the group said.
The Baba Amr neighborhood was also attacked, while clashes took place between army defectors and government loyalists in the southern province of Daraa, where the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March.
The Arab League called for ending “all forms of diplomatic cooperation” with representatives of Assad’s government, the 22-member group said in a statement after a meeting of foreign ministers.
The league urged “all countries that are keen to preserve Syrian lives” to follow suit, and said the proposals should be sent to the UN General Assembly. It called for an end to violence and said it would “provide all forms of political and financial support” to the Syrian opposition.
Syria rejected the Arab League decision, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported, citing a statement by the Syrian ambassador to Egypt, Youssef Ahmed. The Arab League last month suspended its observer mission, citing “the grave deterioration of the situation.”
Russia and China on Feb. 4 vetoed a UN Security Council resolution supported by the Arab League that was designed to find a political solution to a conflict that the UN estimates has killed more than 5,400 people. Syrian forces have intensified their attacks since the resolution was vetoed.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday it was up to the Security Council to take action on the Arab League’s call for a joint peacekeeping mission.
While the Arab League has sent a “strong signal” to Syria, Western nations are unlikely to contribute troops to a UN peacekeeping mission proposed by the Arab League, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in Cape Town today. A UN force should be used only once peace has been established in Syria, he said.
Russia is studying the Arab League’s proposal on sending a peacekeeping force and would like additional details on the plan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a televised joint press conference with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Al-Nahyan said the UN security council shouldn’t block decisions by the Arab League.
“We hope that we will reach a peaceful political resolution on this issue,” he said. Al-Nahyan pledged that support for the opposition in Syria wouldn’t be military.
‘Assad Says No’
“The Arab League ministerial committee wants Assad to go, as does the EU and U.S.,” Andrew J. Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in response to e-mailed questions. “What is unclear in all of this is what happens when Assad says no?”
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi told the foreign ministers meeting yesterday that a new mission should be accompanied by “an agreed-upon vision for a political solution.”
The Arab League sent observers to Syria on Dec. 26 to ensure that Assad followed through on his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti-government demonstrations.
The league in November imposed sanctions on Syria and later drafted a plan that called for the formation of a national unity government to pave the way for elections.
The U.S. is “pursuing all avenues” against the Assad regime and is working with allies to support the opposition, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said yesterday.
U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said an international “coalition of the willing” should provide medical aid, training, communications equipment and weapons to Syrian rebels.
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