Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Arab League takes a step towards full-scale war in Syria

 Moscow believes the Arab League’s decision at its Doha Summit to offer Syria’s place in the association to the opposition is “completely unhelpful” when it comes to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the war-torn country.

A decision was made at the Arab League Summit held in the Qatar capital of Doha on March 26 to offer the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) Syria’s place in the Arab League ‘until elections are held to form a new government.’ “The National Coalition shall be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the main Arab League partner, considering the sacrifice of the Syrian people and the exceptional conditions in which the Syrians find themselves,” said the document, which was read aloud live on Arab TV channels.

A meeting of Arab League foreign ministers that took place two days earlier ended with the decision, backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the ‘Arab spring’ countries to hand over Syria’s place to the NCSROF. Algeria and Iraq voted against the motion, arguing that such a decision contradicts the Arab League Charter, while Syria’s neighbour Lebanon abstained. Article 8 of the Arab League Charter details the need to respect the state system of all the Arab League countries and the inadmissibility of any actions aimed at regime change in the Arab states. The charter also envisages that decisions on such issues should be taken unanimously. Otherwise, a decision is binding only for those who have backed it.

The Arab countries in Doha recognise the importance of efforts to settle the conflict in Syria by political means. But each state has been left to decide for itself whether they should supply arms to the groups fighting the Bashar Assad regime. The summit’s final document says that “each member state of the Arab League has the right to supply defencive means as it so wishes – including military defence – to support the resistance of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army (the armed wing of the Syrian opposition).”

In the opinion of Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby arming the opposition would “balance” the forces of the adversaries in Syria and eventually accelerate the achievement of a political solution.”
Russia has criticised the Arab League’s position. “The Arab League has renounced peaceful settlement and the decision that makes the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition Forces the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people definitely erases all the efforts exerted up until now, including the accords reached in Geneva on June 30, 2012,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The decision to give Syria’s place to the NCSROF is “completely unhelpful” in terms of peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic,” says Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN. “It means that the Arab League has totally withdrawn from the process of the search for political settlement of the crisis,” he told ITAR-TASS. He recalled that the Arab League “from the outset had found itself under the influence of certain extremist forces and certain states which have their own agenda,” on the Syrian issue in the efforts to end the conflict.

According to Churkin, offering NCSROF a place in the Arab League that rightly belongs to Damascus raises certain legal questions. “Syria has not been expelled from the league, its membership has been suspended,” Churkin said. “In general, suspending Syria’s membership in the Arab League from the beginning of the crisis showed that the league was not committed to serious negotiated decisions,” he said.

Meanwhile, the armed opposition admits that the next step it would like to see is external military intervention approved by the UN. “The summit must prepare an appeal to the UN Security Council demanding that Chapter 7 of that organisation’s charter be invoked,” Mahmud Al-Hamza, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, told Izvestia.

Moderate Syrian opposition has condemned the decisions taken at the Arab League Summit. “The decision of the Arab League to give Syria’s place to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary Opposition Forces is illegal in terms of the structure of the Arab League because the Arab League is an association of states and not an organisation. The preference and support of an association representing only one wing of the opposition deals a blow to the efforts of the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the efforts of the entire world community by way of the Geneva agreement to reach a peaceful settlement in Syria. The results of the Arab League summit suggest that a serious step has been made towards dismembering Syria,” said Majed Habbo, Secretary of the overseas branch of the opposition Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change.

 Rim Turkmani, a leading member of the opposition Building the Syrian State Movement had this comment on the Arab League’s position: “The decision of the Arab League to recognise and support the opposition will merely aggravate the situation in the country, stiffening the regime’s resistance and deepening the divisions in society. Although words were heard at the summit on political means of settling the conflict, practical decisions attest to the opposite: the place at the Arab League has been given to an opposition organisation whose charter says unequivocally that there can be no negotiations and no dialogue with the regime.”

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