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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Arab League Calls for UN Peacekeepers in Syria

February 12, 2012

VOA News

The Arab League has agreed to open contacts with the Syrian opposition and ask the U.N. Security Council to form a joint peacekeeping force for Syria, as the regional bloc steps up efforts to end the bloodshed there.

The Syrian government quickly rejected the league decisions.

The 22-member league, which suspended Syria over the violence that has killed thousands, announced Sunday in Cairo it would end its controversial observer mission. It also said it would "open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and offer full political and financial support."

The draft resolution calls on Syria's disparate opposition to unite ahead of a February 24 meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria" coalition, which includes the United States and its European and Arab allies seeking to end Syria's violence. The alliance was created after last week's Russian and Chinese double veto of a Western and Arab attempt at the U.N. to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and allow the formation of a unity government leading to elections.

Arab League officials also said they are considering proposals to expel Syrian ambassadors from Arab capitals.

Ministers from Gulf Arab states, which have been leading the drive to isolate Assad and end his crackdown on an 11-month-old anti-government uprising, met separately to discuss recognizing the exiled Syrian National Council.

Also Sunday, the Sudanese general who led the Arab League's observer mission to Syria resigned. League officials said they accepted Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi's resignation and nominated former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Elah al-Khatib as the new special envoy for Syria. Al-Khatib was the U.N. troubleshooter for the Libyan crisis last year.

Al-Dabi was harshly criticized for his management of the observer mission, which was perceived by the Syrian opposition to have provided cover for the continued crackdown by the Syrian government.

In Syria, activist groups said renewed shelling by the army killed four civilians in the flashpoint city of Homs Sunday. The opposition Local Coordination Committees said at least 31 people were killed the day before as Syrian forces backed by tanks and heavy artillery moved in to crush the anti-government revolt.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against what he called Assad's "pernicious, cancerous regime." All four states border Syria. Al-Zawahri's comments came after two suicide car bombers on Friday struck security compounds in Aleppo, a Syrian city that had been relatively peaceful throughout the uprising. While no group has claimed responsibility, suicide bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaida.

Syria's turmoil began with peaceful protests againstMr. Assad's rule, but the revolt has grown increasingly militarized as army defectors and protesters have taken up arms against the government.

In Rome Sunday, Pope Benedict urged the Syrian government to recognize "the legitimate aspirations" of its people and embark on a national dialogue to end the violent crackdown.

The United Nations says violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people. But the U.N. said it stopped compiling the death toll in January because it is too difficult to obtain information. Hundreds are reported to have been killed since.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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