Russia Criticizes Arab League Mission Suspension in Syria

Posted January 29th, 2012 at 6:35 am (UTC-5)
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Russia's foreign minister has criticized the Arab League's decision to suspend its observer mission to Syria after an upsurge of violence that, according to human rights activists, killed at least 36 people across the country.

Russian state media quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Sunday as saying he would support instead an increase in the number of observers there.

A day earlier, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said the organization chose to stop 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.”

The decision to freeze the mission came during a broad government offensive on areas surrounding the capital, Damascus, and other major cities including Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deir el-Zour. Opposition videos showed government artillery shelling at least six towns and cities, while the government and opposition blamed each other for an oil pipeline explosion.

Syria's Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar vowed Saturday the crackdown would go on until the country is “clean of renegades and outlaws.”

Arab League ambassadors are to meet later this week to make final decisions about the mission.

Syria expressed “regret and surprise” over the Arab League's decision to suspend the mission, which has been in the country 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.

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 Syrian opposition meeting in Turkey accused Iran of helping Damascus try to suppress the uprising, which has been growing since March.

The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region on Saturday backed minority Kurds in Syria, who have rallied against Mr. Assad's rule during the popular revolt. Massoud Barzani, who attended a conference of Syrian Kurds in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, urged them 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 U.N. officials said last week that they have stopped compiling a death toll because it is too hard to obtain information.