Syria’s government has failed to meet the deadline to respond to an Arab League proposal to allow international monitors to assess the situation as protests, and the regime’s violent crackdown, continue into a ninth month. The 22-member League has called for 500 observers to enter Syria, which has agreed to allow in only 40; the League has also demanded that Syria withdraw security forces and pledge to halt violence. Syria had already missed an earlier deadline last Saturday and had been granted more time but the killing of protesters this past week has continued.
The Arab League has now given Syria another 24 hours to make its final response, leading to criticism that it has been too lenient on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The League is planning to meet in Cairo on Saturday to discuss economic sanctions which could include a halt of all commercial flights to Syria and a halt to all dealings with its central bank. Syria relies heavily on its Arab neighbors for half of its exports and a quarter of its imports; its economy has already been heavily affected by sanctions from the European Union and the United States. A third of the government’s revenues come from oil and tourism, both of which have come to a standstill since the uprising began.
Violence has continued with opposition activists reporting that at least 24 people, including a woman and child, have been killed and most in the central province of Homs, a center of resistance to Assad (photographs taken inside the beleaguered city are at the Guardian’s site).
There have been more and more signs that the uprising is becoming an armed insurgency. The BBC‘s Paul Wood was able to travel without permission to Homs and says that he saw a “small but steady stream of defectors from the official security forces.” Al Jazeera reports that, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA, 10 members of the armed forces including six elite military pilots were killed in an ambush.
Al Jazeera‘s Hashem AhelBarra was in a Syrian refugee camp in the Turkish province of Hatay when the news of Assad refusing to sign the deal was announced. He commented:
“People there were saying that this should provide the international community a sense of clarity, [adding that it has] to move forward and impose sanctions coupled with a military intervention.
“Refugees have been there for five months. They do not want to stay there forever. They know that for Assad’s regime to collapse, there need to be international intervention coupled with support to army defectors.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the Arab League’s ultimatum is Syria’s “last chance” and that he wanted “to say clearly we have no more tolerance for the bloodshed in Syria. The attitude of friendly and fraternal countries on this subject is clear.”
The United Nations estimates that over 3,500 Syrians have been killed in the uprisings that began in the middle of March in the southern agricultural city of Dara’a; Assad’s regime has claimed that Islamist militants financed by foreign countries have been the sources of the unrest. A recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found that hundreds who had been detained said they had been tortured and, on Thursday, Claudio Grossman, the chairman of the United Nations Committee Against Torture said that not only have there been “rife or systematic attacks against [the] civilian population, including the killing of peaceful demonstrators” but that children have been subjected to torture and mutilation during detention as well.
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Photo taken in Bruxelles in May 2011 by Syria-Frames-Of-Freedom