Arab League wants U.N. peacekeepers in Syria

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CAIRO (AP) — The Arab League will call Sunday for the U.N. Security Council to create a joint peacekeeping force for Syria, the latest effort by the regional group to end the 11-month old crisis that has killed more than 5,000 people.

The new effort is spelled out in a draft resolution obtained by the Associated Press and expected to be adopted by league foreign ministers meeting in Cairo. However, Syria is unlikely to accept a joint U.N.-Arab League peacekeeping force.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal conveyed the league’s frustration with Syria by telling delegates it was no longer appropriate for the league to stand by and watch the bloodshed in Syria.

“Until when will we remain spectators?” he said. “It is a disgrace for us as Muslims and Arabs to accept” the bloodshed in Syria, he said.

The Arab League has been at the forefront of regional efforts to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria. The group put forward a plan that President Bashar Assad agreed to in December, then sent in monitors to check whether the Syrian regime was complying. But when it became clear that Mr. Assad’s regime was flouting the terms of the agreement and killings went on, the league pulled the observers out last month.

The draft resolution calls for an immediate cease-fire in Syria and demands regime forces lift the siege on neighborhoods and villages and pull troops and their heavy weapons back to their barracks.

It urges Syrian opposition groups to unite ahead of a Feb. 24 meeting in Tunisia of the “Friends of Syria” group, which includes the United States, its European allies and Arab nations working to end the uprising against Mr. Assad’s authoritarian rule.

The creation of the group came after last weekend’s veto in the Security Council by Russia and China of a Western-Arab draft resolution that would have pressured Mr. Assad to step down. That resolution also would have demanded that Mr. Assad halt the crackdown on dissent and implement the Arab League peace plan, which calls for him to hand over power to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government to clear the way for elections.

The league resolution also wants to provide the opposition groups with political and material support. It calls for a halt to all diplomatic contacts with Syria and for referring officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people to international criminal tribunals. It urges a tightening of trade sanctions previously adopted by the league but not been fully implemented.

The group, meeting in Cairo, also was considering a proposal to expel Syrian ambassadors from Arab capitals.

The league officials said the group also would call on Syrian opposition groups to close ranks and unite under one umbrella, a move that they said would place more pressure on the Assad regime.

Washington piled more pressure on Syria.

President Obama’s chief of staff, Jacob Lew, said it was only a matter of time before Mr. Assad’s regime collapsed.

“The brutality of the Assad regime is unacceptable and has to end,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” The U.S. is pursuing “all avenues that we can” and “there is no question that this regime will come to an end. The only question is when,” he said.

Late Saturday, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri threw the terror network’s support behind Syrian rebels trying to topple Mr. Assad, raising fears that Islamic extremists are exploiting the uprising that began peacefully but is quickly transforming into an armed insurgency. The regime long has blamed terrorists for the revolt, and al Qaeda’s endorsement creates new difficulties for Western and Arab states trying to figure out a way to help force Mr. Assad out of power.

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