Arab League urges UN action on Syria
Cairo, August 27, 2013
The Arab League squarely blamed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Tuesday for a gas attack near Damascus and urged the UN Security Council to act, providing what diplomatic sources said was political cover for a possible US strike.
Western powers have told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against Assad's forces within days to punish the attack, according to sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said the international community must take a "decisive and serious" stand against the government of Assad.
"The rejection of the Syrian regime of all serious and earnest Arab efforts .... requires a decisive and serious stand by the international community to stop the humanitarian tragedy of the Syrian people," Prince Saud was quoted as saying by the state news agency SPA.
The Arab League's statement, issued after an emergency meeting, made no mention of military action. But it accused Assad of genocide and demanded, in unusually strong language, that the perpetrators of last week's poison gas attack, in which hundreds of civilians were killed, face justice.
The Arab League holds Syria "fully responsible for the ugly crime and demands that all the perpetrators of this heinous crime be presented for international trials", the statement said.
It also called on UN Security Council members to overcome their differences and take "the necessary resolutions against the perpetrators of this crime".
Russia and China have vetoed measures against Assad in the Council over the past two years. Russia in particular argued that Western powers abused a resolution in 2011 to justify military action to help topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - action that was endorsed by the Arab League.
Diplomatic sources said the Arab League statement had been pushed through by the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in the knowledge that air strikes were being discussed.
The two countries have been among the most ardent backers of Syria's rebels and have pressed for firmer action against Assad.
Syria's civil war has split the region broadly along sectarian lines. Shi'ite Muslim Iran, and its allies in Lebanon and Iraq, have supported Assad. The Gulf states have backed the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, many of whom are Islamist militants.
Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Algeria, withheld their backing for the Arab League statement or parts of it on Tuesday, as they have done in the past.
In another development, France said it "will not shirk its responsibilities". A source, speaking shortly before President Francois Hollande was due to address an ambassadors' conference in Paris on foreign policy, said that, in France's view, there was no doubt Syrian forces were behind last week's attack. - Reuters