The Arab League is under mounting pressure to suspend Syria’s membership as it meets to discuss the country’s steadily worsening eight month crisis.
The league faces calls, from within its ranks and from European countries, to act as its 22 member states meet in Cairo on Saturday after an earlier deal with Damascus failed to achieve an end to the violence in Syria.
That arrangement reached at the start of November, involved Syrian troops and tanks being withdrawn from the cities they are besieging, especially Homs and Hama, along the border with Lebanon and Idlib in the north.
However, violence between regime security forces and opposition groups has not slowed since. In Homs, at least nine people were killed in battles on Friday between security forces and armed opposition groups, including defectors. Another seven people were killed in other parts of Syria.
The Arab League deal was seen as a means of slowing an eight-month revolt that has destabilised the region, fuelled sectarian tensions in Syria and alarmed Europe and the US, which have insisted there will be no repeat of the Nato military intervention that helped topple the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The deal’s failure has damaged the standing of the pan-Arab body, which has largely remained flat-footed as revolutions rumbled across the Middle East this year.
Nevertheless, Europe and the US believe the league should continue to take centre stage in trying to mediate the crisis, a task that has tested the merits of the 40-year-old body and continues to divide its members.
The director of the Brookings Doha Centre, Salman Shaikh, said key Gulf states remained deeply unhappy with President Bashar al-Assad, but until now had not been ready to take a lead role in urging punitive measures against Syria, including suspension.