Arab League Requests U.N. Peacekeepers For Syria

The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council on Sunday to send a peacekeeping mission to Syria, and called on Arab nations to sever diplomatic relations with the country in an effort to pressure it to end the violence there.

The chair for the Syrian representative sat empty as the Arab League met in Cairo on Sunday.  The group suspended Syria’s membership in November.

The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council on Sunday to send a peacekeeping mission to Syria, and called on Arab nations to sever diplomatic relations with the country in an effort to pressure it to end the violence there.

As the Arab League sought to speed an end to a conflict that appears to be escalating toward civil war, several Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda, sought to ramp it up, calling on their followers around the globe to join a jihad against the Syrian government.

At a meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers in Cairo, after the League’s own observer mission to Syria failed to end the bloodshed last month, the organization adopted a resolution asking the Security Council to authorize a joint Arab-United Nations force to “supervise the execution of a cease-fire.”

The resolution also called on Arab League members to “halt all forms of diplomatic cooperation” with representatives of the Syrian government. As it has before, the League also called for Syrian military forces to withdraw from the cities, and an immediate end to the killing of Syrian civilians.

The League also sought continued diplomatic efforts. The league’s secretary general, Nabil ElAraby, said a joint peacekeeping force “should go hand-in-hand with a political track.”

“The violence cannot stop without a common view on a political compromise,” he added.

The resolution said the League supported “opening channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and financial support to it,” although it did not specify what that support would be. The resolution also fell short of recognizing the Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, instead calling on the opposition to “unify its ranks.”

Syria immediately dismissed the proposal, saying it “completely rejected the decision issued by the League,” the state news agency, Sana, reported Sunday night.

Syria’s ambassador to Cairo, Yousef Ahmad, said Syria was “not interested in any decision issued by the League” since it suspended Syria’s membership from the group in November, Sana reported. He said the decision reflected “hysteria and confusion” by Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the assault on numerous Syrian cities, including Homs and Zabadani, showed no sign of letting up, and several jihadi groups issued statements calling on their supporters to join the battle.

On Saturday, Ayman al-Zawahri, the Al Qaeda leader, issued a statement urging Muslims in the region — he specifically mentioned Iraq — to support the uprising, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi communications.

In addition, Al Qaeda in Iraq, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq, put a statement on its Web site saying, “a lot of Syrians fought side-by-side with the Islamic State of Iraq and it is good news to hear about the arrival of Iraqi fighters to fight with their brethren in Syria.” The group has also advised Syrian rebels to use the type of roadside bombs that proved so deadly in the Iraq war, and “hit-and-run operations.”

In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood called for jihad against the Assad government and support for a rebel army, calling it “an Islamic duty,” Agence France-Presse reported.

The Syrian government has long maintained that it is the victim of an assault by extremists from abroad, and although there was scant evidence before, the possibility now seems more likely.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group, said 26 people were killed Sunday, including 14 in Homs and eight government soldiers in Hama.

The Local Coordination Committees, a domestic opposition group, said 23 people had been killed, including 9 in Daraa and 5 in Homs.

The numbers varied because the two groups rely on their own contacts in the cities to supply information. Any numbers are difficult to confirm because Syria has barred most foreign reporters from entering country.

A video from Homs posted on YouTube appeared to show a doctor pleading with the Arab League for a more effective approach. “We need action, not more declarations,” he said.

In Aleppo, a common funeral was held for the 25 victims of an attack against two security headquarters there on Friday. The perpetrator remained unclear — no one has claimed responsibility for the attack — but Sunni extremists, possibly from Iraq have been blamed for it.

Mr. ElAraby said the situation in Syria required a much larger monitoring mission, drawn from around the Arab world as well as members of the United Nations, and they should be deployed as quickly as possible. The ministers were considering a force of 3,000 members, according to Arab satellite television reports, far larger than the group of some 200 officers sent earlier mission that was suspended in January.

Given the Syrian government’s initial response on Sunday, it was unlikely that it would accept such a force. The presence of the Arab League mission, even if it was thwarted in its work, was considered something of a brake on the government violence against civilians.

Also United Nations approval is not assured. The Security Council has been reluctant in the past to deploy peacekeeping missions when there is no established peace to keep. The Security Council is also deeply divided on the issue of Syria, with Russia and China having vetoed a resolution this month supported by the West and Arab countries that called for an end to the violence in Syria.

Mohammed al-Dabi, the controversial Sudanese general who led the Arab League observer mission, officially resigned from that post on Sunday, news reports said.

Abdel Elah al-Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister who served as the United Nations’ special envoy to the Libya crisis, was being considered as the league’s representative to the conflict. Mr. Khatib was not always seen as an effective intermediary, not least because the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, refused to engage with him.

In addition, Tunisia offered to host a meeting on Feb. 24 of the “Friends of Syria,” the same kind of international group that was used to bring pressure on Libya. The West and the Arab nations see that as an alternative to the failed United Nations Security Council resolution.

Speaking at the open session of the Arab League meeting, the Tunisian Foreign Minister, Rafik Ben Adessalam, said the Syrian people had the same right to freedom as that already achieved by the people of Tunis, Libya and Egypt.

In a reflection of the new divide in the region, Tunisia and Libya expelled Syrian diplomats from their capitals after the recent escalation of violence against civilians in Syrian cities. In response, Damascus announced Friday that it was ordering the reciprocal shuttering of the embassies of those two countries within 72 hours.

The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that international armed intervention in Syria had to be ruled out, but the violence had to be stopped and the Syrian government not be given any more chances. Syria has repeatedly stalled in implementing an Arab League peace plan it accepted in November. The expulsion of most Syrian diplomats was anticipated across the Arab world.

“The lack of commitment of the Syrian government is obvious,” Prince Saud said. “What Syria is witnessing is not racist nor sectarian nor guerrilla war, but a mass purge without any humanitarian considerations.”

On Monday, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to take up the issue, focusing on humanitarian concerns and a draft Saudi proposal calling for support for the Arab League plan. Such General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but considered a kind of poll of public opinion worldwide.