Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar AssadIsrael news photo: Flash 90

In a move that would have been unthinkable even just a few months ago, the Arab League on Sunday night suggested providing all possible assistance to groups seeking to unseat Bashar al-Assad as leader of Syria – to the extent that it would welcome a UN presence in Syria, working with Arab League observers in preventing further attacks by Syrian troops on protesters.

A draft resolution by League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo called for “the opening of channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and to provide all forms of political and material support.” In the draft, the ministers called for Arab governments to cut political and economic ties with Syria, although the choice of whether or not to do so would be left to each government. And, the League said it supported a proposal by Tunisia to hold a conference for Syrian opposition groups later this month.

But most surprising was the call for UN involvement in the conflict, a condition the League has consistently opposed. “First of all, the shooting myst end,” said League chairman Nabil al-Arabi. “Then we set up an observer force that will be made up of Arab League representatives and UN representatives in order to ensure that a ceasefire holds, and to protect citizens. The new mission of the observers will have to be different than the previous mission,” he said.

With that, the League did not vote to recognize the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in Syria, as the country's legitimate representatives. One League official said that recognizing the Council as the Syrian government was “difficult. The Arab League made it clear to the opposition that the body as a whole cannot do it, but rather the individual countries will need to do that on their own,”the official said.