Gulf states reject Syria meeting, pressure mounts on al-Assad
At least five people were killed in Syria Tuesday as President Bashar al-Assad's government grew increasingly isolated, with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rejecting Syria's request for an emergency summit and the UN chief demanding an end to civilian killings, DPA reported.
Abdul Latif al-Zayani, the GCC secretary general, said "holding an Arab summit at present is pointless," and noted that the Arab League was continuously monitoring the Syrian crisis.
Syria had called for an emergency meeting of Arab leaders. Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said he had delivered Syria's request to the 22 member states and the approval of 15 was required to hold the summit.
The GCC rejection comes ahead of the deadline given to Syria for Wednesday, when Arab foreign ministers are to meet in Morocco, to comply or face unspecified political and economic sanctions.
The Arab League on Saturday said it would exclude Syria from its meetings until Damascus complied with a proposed peace initiative.
Syria insisted it has complied with the plan, and that it allowed foreign media inside the country and began releasing political prisoners. On Tuesday, 1,180 detainees were released, the SANA news agency reported.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said prominent dissident Kamal Labwani was among those released. Labwani spent six years in prison after being charged with allegedly encouraging the United States to attack Syria. He was released under the terms of a recent presidential amnesty, which halved his sentence.
At least five people, including two children, were killed Tuesday in different provinces as government forces continued their crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, activists said.
A hospital in the restive central city of Homs received 19 unidentified bodies, the London-based Observatory said, expressing fears that the dead were civilians "kidnapped by pro-government thugs over the past two days."
According to activists, more than 65 people were killed on Monday.
In Bangladesh, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was "crucially important that (al-Assad) must immediately stop killing his own people" and abide by the agreement with the Arab League for the sake of democracy and human rights.
The UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday condemned in the "strongest terms" attacks against several foreign embassies and consular premises in Syria.
The attacks led to intrusions into diplomatic territories and serious damage to facilities, the council said. It expressed "deep concern at the repetition of such attacks," and renewed a demand to Syrian authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property as well as personnel working there.
A key Syrian opposition figure called on UN observers to be sent to the country, where more than 3,500 people have been killed since the pro-democracy protests began in mid-March.
"The protection of peaceful citizens, this is not military intervention. This could be UN observers," said Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council.
Ghalioun also called for a tougher stance by the Kremlin against al-Assad to halt army attacks on protesters seeking his ouster.
"We did not succeed in changing Russia's position, and they did not succeed to change ours," said Ghalioun, referring to Moscow's position against Western efforts at the UN to condemn Syria's handling of the unrest.
Syria has expressed its trust that Russia - as well as China - will not change their positions.
Russia has maintained good relations with Syria since the mid-1970s. The country is one of the Kremlin's top allies in the Middle East and a major Russian arms customer.
Ghalioun met earlier Tuesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow, who said that "there is still room for reforms and negotiations."
"The pre-condition for any dialogue would be a regime declaration of its conversion to a democratic system. Without that, there can be no talks," Ghalioun told reporters in the Russian capital.