Arab League mulls Syria mission pullout

Arab League mulls Syria mission pullout

Arab League mulls Syria mission pullout

Syrian immigrants holds crossed out pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a rally against his regime in front of the Syrian embassy in Belgrade, Serbia. AP photo

The Arab League called yesterday for an emergency meeting to discuss whether it should withdraw its monitors from Syria, where security forces are still killing protesters despite the observers’ presence, an Arab official said. The meeting will take place Jan. 7 in Cairo, where the Arab League is based.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to step down for overseeing “disgusting” massacres against his own people. Sarkozy said Syrians should be allowed “to freely choose their own destiny” after facing what he denounced as brutal persecution that inspires “disgust and revulsion.” Sarkozy demanded the regime give the observers space to work and called on the international community to “face up to its responsibilities” by imposing the “toughest sanctions” to force Damascus to grant humanitarian access.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said yesterday he was “skeptical” about the progress of the Arab League’s operation. “The conditions under which this observer mission is operating should be clarified,” Juppe said, questioning whether the observers really had free access to information. Activists reported more bloodshed yesterday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead three people in the restive city of Homs. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an umbrella group of activists, had a higher toll, saying security forces killed four people in Homs, one in the Damascus suburb of Kfar Batya and one in the central province of Hama. “Yes, there is still shooting, and yes, there are still snipers,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby told a news conference in Cairo Jan. 2, admitting the killings continued despite observer presence.

Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed bin Heli said the meeting Jan. 7 will look into the first report by the head of the monitoring mission, which began Dec. 27. Another official said the ministerial meeting will discuss whether to pull out the monitors because of the ongoing violence in Syria. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Saturday meeting will not make a final decision but will send its recommendations to another high-level ministerial meeting. No date was set for that meeting.

Also Jan. 3, an explosion struck a gas pipeline in central Syria in an attack the government blamed on terrorists, the state-run news agency said. There were no casualties. The blast happened near the town Rastan in the restive Homs province, SANA reported. The pipeline feeds two power stations.

Compiled from AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.