x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Arab League will hold talks with UN on Syria crisis

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, meanwhile, said the United Nations could not keep track of the death toll in Syria's violence that has already cost more than 5,400 lives.

A Syrian officer shows an Arab league monitor, second left, a weapon confiscated from what officials say were gunmen during a monitor's tour in Damascus.
A Syrian officer shows an Arab league monitor, second left, a weapon confiscated from what officials say were gunmen during a monitor's tour in Damascus.

DAMASCUS // An Arab League team is to take the 10-month crisis in Syria to the UN Security Council, as activists said security forces launched an assault on a protest hub near the capital yesterday.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, meanwhile, said the United Nations could not keep track of the death toll in Syria's violence that has already cost more than 5,400 lives.

At the Arab League, the organisation's chief Nabil Elaraby said he and Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani were to head to New York tomorrow to seek support for an Arab plan on Syria.

They are to "hold a meeting with the UN Security Council on Monday to seek ratification of the Arab League decision on Syria," for President Bashar Al Assad to hand power to his deputy, Mr Elaraby said.

Arab League ministers last week urged Mr Al Assad to delegate powers to his vice president and clear the way for a national unity government within two months, a plan which Damascus has ruled out as interference in its internal affairs.

Yesterday, there was no let-up in violence with activists reporting that troops were pressing a major assault on Hama, long a hotbed of resistance against the regime.

Just north of Damascus, security forces attacked the town of Douma that activists say was in the hands of rebel troops last week before a withdrawal.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were also clashes between the army and deserters in Deraa province, south of the capital.

It said at least four civilians, including a 14-year-old boy and a 58-year-old woman, both were shot dead by security forces, and that four soldiers were killed in violence across the country.

It said more than 200 arrests were made in the town during the assault, although there was no independent confirmation of the reports as foreign media are restricted in their coverage of Syria's uprising which erupted in March.

On the diplomatic front, European and Arab governments worked on a Security Council resolution condemning Al Assad's government for its crackdown.

The authorities yesterday organised loyalist rallies in major cities as they reacted angrily to mounting criticism from Arab governments that have taken the lead role in diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed.

Ms Pillay gave a toll of more than 5,000 dead when she spoke to the Security Council in early December, but has not updated it.

Under secretary general B Lynn Pascoe told the council on January 10 that at least 400 people had been killed since the Arab observer mission deployed on December 26.

After meeting Security Council ambassadors again, Ms Pillay said the toll had risen but added: "We are experiencing difficulties because of the fragmentation on the ground.

"Some areas are totally closed such as parts of Homs, so we are unable to update that figure," she told reporters.

Russia said on Wednesday it would consider "constructive proposals" to end the bloodshed but opposed the use of force or sanctions against Syria.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any Security Council resolution backed by Moscow "must firmly record that it cannot be used or interpreted to justify anyone's outside military intervention in the Syria crisis."

Russia and China both blocked a previous Western attempt to have the Security Council formally condemn Mr Al Assad's crackdown and impose stiff sanctions if he refuses to enter direct talks.

According to diplomats at the United Nations, European and Arab governments are drafting a new text they hope to put to a vote in the Security Council early next week.

In the capital, thousands demonstrated yesterday in support of the government, chanting slogans hailing Moscow and denouncing the Arab League.

State television carried footage of similar pro-Assad rallies in other towns.