The Arab League says it is suspending its observer mission in Syria due to an upsurge of violence that has killed some 100 people in recent days.
Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby said Saturday the organization opted to halt the observers' work after talks with Arab foreign ministers. He blamed Syria's government for the escalation of violence and said the victims have been “innocent civilians.”
An Arab League official said Arab foreign ministers are expected to discuss early next month whether to fully withdraw the observers from Syria.
Syria said it “regretted” and is “surprised” by the Arab League's decision to suspend its mission, which has been in Syria for a month to monitor the government's crackdown on dissent. An Arab League plan calls for President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power and form a unity government to prepare for elections.
Human rights activists say at least 34 people died in violence Saturday, as Syrian forces clashed with anti-regime army defectors. Many of those killed were military personnel.
In one incident, Syria's state-run news agency said “terrorists” ambushed a bus near the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus.
Violence has also been reported in recent days in the flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama, and in the northern Idlib region.
The Arab League's Nabil Elaraby and Qatar's prime minister plan on Tuesday to brief the U.N. Security Council about the league's mission in Syria, which has been plagued by difficulties and has come under criticism.
Meanwhile, the president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region backed minority Kurds in Syria, who have rallied against Mr. Assad's rule during 10 months of nationwide protests. Massoud Barzani made his remarks Saturday at a conference of Syrian Kurds in Irbil, the capital Iraqi Kurdistan. He called on Syria's Kurdish people to remain united.
More than two million Kurds live in Syria.
The United Nations says violence linked to the unrest in Syria has killed more than 5,400 people, including nearly 400 children. But the U.N. said this week it has stopped compiling a death toll because it is too hard to obtain information.