Assad's 'Mexican Standoff' with the Arab League
In true Middle Eastern fashion, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad found a way this week to further delay action against his regime and raising the stakes on a deal with the Arab League with demands that the League agree not to enforce its own agreement.
Complying with a last-chance ultimatum by the Arab League, he ordered Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to respond to a deadline set for Sunday -- and an eleventh-hour positive response to the League's intiative was sent by letter, as late as possible, Sunday night.
There were big "Howevers."
Syria's agreement to accept a delegation of observers from the Arab League -- announced Monday by Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi -- included a few other items.
The letter, published in the Syrian press Tuesday, also demanded the complete overturn of Arab League sanctions imposed November 27, and its suspension of Syria's membership.
In what Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby referred to as "new demands," al-Muallem wrote, "The government considers all decisions taken by the Arab League... including Syria's suspension and the sanctions taken by the ministerial committee against it, to be null and void once Damascus signs the protocol."
In effect, the letter delays action by the League until a decision is taken on the "new demands." The foreign ministers of the 22-member body are now reviewing the letter, Elaraby told reporters.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria is rising daily as government troops continue to carry out the Assad regime's crackdown undeterred.
Five civilians were shot dead on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said government security forces were attacking the town of Da'el in the province of Dara'a.
More than 4,000 people have died in the violence that began in March with the uprising ignited by the region-wide "Arab Spring," according to United Nations estimates.
Human rights organizations and activists say the figures are actually higher, estimating that close to 5,000 people have died. Thousands more have been wounded, tortured, arrested and detained by government forces, including children, and some have "disappeared" in a manner similar to that which occurs in Iran.