Foreign Ministers of the Arab League have met in Cairo to discuss an array of diplomatic options to mount fresh pressure on the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, which is battling an increasingly militant opposition whose influence is seeping into the capital Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
In Cairo, the League's headquarters, Ministers from the grouping are deliberating on whether to adopt steps aimed mainly at alleviating humanitarian strife, especially in embattled Homs — where satellite pictures show tanks embedded inside the city — or take a position that would sharpen the political challenge to the Assad regime.
Al Jazeera is reporting that the assembled foreign envoys are looking at the possibility of forming a joint United Nations-Arab League monitoring team that would replace the observer mission, which aborted its work inside Syria last month. The Foreign Ministers are expected to propose formation of a team of around 3,000 personnel, with an inbuilt international component, which would function under Arab League's supervision. They are also considering shifting the mandate of the team from pure monitoring to peacekeeping, to ease hardship of civilians caught up in the conflict zone, especially in Homs.
In the brainstorming exercise so far, there have been suggestions that the League could formally recognise the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) — a controversial step, which would virtually eliminate prospects of engaging the Assad regime in a dialogue in order to find a peaceful end to the crisis. Russia and China — two countries that vetoed a recent U.N. resolution have been advocating a diplomatic engagement with Mr. Assad's government that would help start an internal dialogue for reconciliation.
Complementing diplomacy in Cairo, Saudi Arabia is set to float a draft at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, which would seek the backing of member countries for an Arab peace plan seeking Syria's transition into a full-fledged democracy. Saudi Arabia forcefully injected itself in diplomacy surrounding Syria, when on Friday, the country's monarch King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz criticised Russia and China for their veto at the U.N. “We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” he said during a nationally televised address.
The Arab plan centres around the formation of a national unity government, headed by Syria's Vice-President, who would head this government after Mr. Assad steps down. The escalation of diplomacy on Sunday is coinciding with the expansion of the conflict in Syria, which is gradually creeping into Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's industrial hub, from the Islamist strongholds of Homs and Hama. On Saturday, gunmen killed Dr. Issa al-Khouli, a brigadier-general who headed the Hameish military hospital, in the capital. The state-run news agency SANA said the assassination fell within “the framework of targeting the Syrian intellectuals and the medical and technical cadres.”
The Syrian opposition is also claiming fresh violence between army defectors and government forces in Doumah and Zabadani, which are located at the edge of Damascus. A day earlier, signaling the slow ignition of a widening crisis, car bombings in Aleppo killed 28 and wounded 235, said authorities.