BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies joined it on Tuesday in pulling out of an Arab League monitoring team to Syria, further damaging the credibility of a mission whose presence has not halted more than 10 months of violence.
Syria risks becoming an Arab and international pariah for its harsh response to an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in which thousands of people have been killed.
The Arab League demanded on Sunday that Assad step down in favour of a unity government to end the bloodshed, but said Arab observers should stay in Syria for another month.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at the time his country was quitting the mission because Syria had not implemented an earlier Arab peace plan. He urged Muslim states as well as Russia, China, Europe and the United States, to exert “all possible pressure” on Syria to ensure its compliance.
“The GCC states have decided to respond to the decision of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to withdraw its monitors from the Arab League delegation to Syria,” the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement.
It said the GCC was “certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue, and that the Syrian regime would not abide by the Arab League’s resolutions.”
The Arab League demand for a change of government in Syria puts more pressure on the U.N. Security Council to overcome its divisions and take a stand on the bloodletting there.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem was to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) at which he was expected to reject the Arab plan and say whether Damascus will allow Arab monitors to stay in the country for another month.
In an initial response, an official Syrian source told state news agency SANA on Monday the Arab initiative was a “conspiracy against Syria” and “flagrant interference” in its affairs.
The Arab observers deployed late last month to assess Syria’s compliance with an earlier Arab League plan.
“There has been some progress, but there has not been immediate or complete implementation as the Arab initiative requires,” Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday, adding that he would name a special envoy to Syria this week.
A Syrian opposition group condemned the mission’s leader, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, for a report in which he highlighted violence by Assad’s adversaries as well as by his security forces.
“BUTCHER AND VICTIM”
The Syria-based Local Coordination Committees criticised Dabi for equating “the butcher and the victim,” saying he had “blurred the monumental hardship that millions of Syrians experience every day while they rise to reach freedom, dignity, democracy and a wise system of governance.”
It said the security forces had killed 36 people, including three children, on Monday. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 26.
The state news agency SANA reported the burials of nine military or law enforcement “martyrs” the same day.
In Syria’s restive city of Homs, soldiers are stationed behind sand barriers at street corners, most shops are closed and residents are nervous, according to a Reuters reporter taken there on a government-organised visit.
Scattered shooting is a reminder of the struggle between Assad’s government army and rebels who now control most of it.
“Every day we have a funeral. Every day we receive between four to five dead. There was one day we buried 20 soldiers,” said Haitham Othman, an officer at the military hospital where three security men were buried on Monday.
The bloodshed in Syria, whose uprising was inspired by others in the Arab world that have toppled three autocrats, has damaged its standing in the Arab world and beyond, where Iran is among its few remaining allies.
France welcomed the Arab call for Assad to step down.
“We were the first to condemn what was happening in Syria and it’s scandalous the Security Council remains silent,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Canal+ television.
“However, there is a glimmer of light now. The Arab League initiative has been positive and we support it,” he said. Russia has so far resisted U.N. Security Council action against Assad, but a senior Russian lawmaker, Mikhail Margelov, said Moscow could do little more to back the 46-year-old leader.
He said Russia’s veto last year, alongside China, of a Western-drafted Security Council resolution condemning Assad’s crackdown had “exhausted our arsenal of such resources.”
Germany’s U.N. envoy, Peter Wittig, said the Arab League’s request for the Council to endorse its call for Assad to hand over to his deputy could be a “game-changer” for the world body.
“This is something that council members couldn’t easily ignore or oppose,” he said in New York. “Only real support and endorsement of the Arab League’s decisions will do, everything else will be perceived as much too weak.”
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in March. Damascus says “terrorists” have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.