Middle East

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi to visit Syria

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo. 27 Aug 2011
Image caption Nabil al-Arabi will try to negotiate an end to the crisis in Syria, the Arab League says

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi is to visit Syria to try to resolve the crisis in the country.

He will take with him an "initiative to solve the crisis", the league said, without giving further details.

It followed a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. They also called on Damascus to stop the violence and usher in reforms.

The UN says more than 2,200 people have died since protests against President Bashar al-Assad began in March.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo says the league is increasing pressure on Damascus but has not suspended Syria from the group, as it did with Libya earlier this year.

A statement said ministers "asked the secretary-general of the Arab League to carry out an urgent mission to Damascus and transmit the Arab initiative to resolve the crisis to the Syrian leadership".

Ministers also called for "respect [for] the right of the Syrian people to live in security and... their legitimate aspirations for political and social reforms".

The league said Syria's stability was crucial to the whole region.

But Syria has rejected the statement in a diplomatic note to the Arab League that the AFP news agency says it has seen.

The note says the statement amounts to "a clear violation... of the principles of the Arab League charter and of the foundations of joint Arab action," the AFP reports.

'Important envoy'

President Assad is coming under enormous international pressure to end the bloodletting - even from his allies.

Turkey said on Sunday it had lost confidence in its neighbour.

President Abdullah Gul said the situation in Syria had "reached a level that everything is too little, too late".

"Everyone should know that we are with the Syrian people.. What is fundamental is the people," he told Anatolia news agency.

Iran - Syria's closest ally - has also called on President Assad to listen to his people's demands.

"The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Russia opposes a draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council by US, France, Britain and Germany which calls for a freeze of President Assad's assets and an arms embargo against Syria.

Moscow has submitted its own draft resolution, which calls for the Syrian government to speed up reforms and for the opposition to take part in political dialogue.

It is sending a "very important envoy" to Damascus on Monday, Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Injured imam

Meanwhile, reports continue to come in of further violence in Syria.

Sit-ins and protests were reportedly held overnight around Damascus after security officials stormed the al-Rifai mosque in the capital's Kafar Susseh district as people were leaving prayers.

Activists said at least one person was killed and several wounded, including the mosque's elderly imam.

Shootings were also reported in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, northern Idlib province and the central city of Homs.

Most foreign journalists have been barred from Syria, making it difficult to verify reports from local activists and officials.

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