Arab foreign ministers will meet on Feb. 5 to review their suspended observer mission to unrest-swept Syria, an official at the Cairo-based Arab League said on Sunday.
Thousands of people have been killed in a 10-month uprising against embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. The ministers are expected to discuss whether or not to permanently withdraw the mission from Syria after it was suspended on Saturday.
Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi said the organization to suspend its mission “after the Syrian government chose the option of escalation, which increased the number of victims.”
The Arab initiative, which began in December, had initially included demands for Damascus to pull the military out of residential areas, free political prisoners and start dialogue with the opposition.
But reports of continued violence have led Syrian opposition groups to deem the Arab observer mission a failure.
Syria, which said it was surprised by the decision to suspend the work of the monitors, described the move as a bid to influence the Security Council and increase pressure for foreign intervention.
Some Arab states remain wary of stepping up sanctions or putting other pressure on Syria. Some diplomats say some Arab states are also concerned that approaching the Security Council takes the issue out of Arab hands.
Al-Arabi said Algeria had voiced reservations about the part of the league resolution that related to informing the Security Council.
A diplomatic source from another Arab state told Reuters, regarding any move by the Security Council to impose sanctions: “If we review such cases in Iraq and other places, I think that kind of punishment didn’t yield a lot.”
Arab states imposed economic sanctions on Syria’s government but diplomats say they have limited impact because neighboring states such as Iraq and Lebanon did not implement them.
Arab League chief Nabil el-Arabi headed to New York on Sunday seeking to win support from the U.N. Security Council for a plan to end violence in Syria by asking President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
El-Arabi will brief the Security Council on Tuesday but the Arab initiative, which is backed by Western states, is facing resistance from Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the council with veto powers.
El-Arabi, the league’s secretary-general, will be joined in New York by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the league’s committee charged with following Syrian developments. Qatar and fellow Gulf Arab state Saudi Arabia have been leading efforts to put pressure on Assad.
“We will hold several meetings with representatives from members of the Security Council to obtain the council’s support and agreement to the Arab initiative,” el-Arabi told reporters at Cairo airport shortly before leaving for New York.
Asked about China and Russia’s reluctance to take new steps over Syria, el-Arabi said he hoped the two nations would change their position. “There are contacts with China and Russia on this issue,” he said.
He also said Arab monitors, whose work was suspended after an escalation of violence, had gathered in Damascus and would not leave the Syrian capital until their status was decided following the withdrawal of Gulf observers from the team.