Syria rejects Arab League call for power change

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Syria on Monday rejected an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy and clear the way for a national unity government, as the EU slapped new sanctions on Damascus.
“Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs,” an official said on state television. The Arab League on Sunday asked the United Nations to support a new plan for ending the bloodshed in unrest-swept Syria that would see Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity formed within two months.
The plan was detailed in a statement read out by Qatar’s premier, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, at the end of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo to determine the fate of their observer mission in Syria.
“If this initiative is not put in place (by Damascus), we will go to the (UN) Security Council, where the decisions will be taken,” Sheikh Hamad warned. Deployed since December 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan, the observer mission has been widely criticised for its failure to stem the government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Saudi Arabia said at the Cairo talks that Riyadh was pulling out its observers from the mission because the Syrian government had “not respected any of the clauses” of an Arab peace plan. The League agreed, however, to extend the mission and boost the force from its current number of about 165 observers on the ground, according to the final statement of Arab foreign ministers. On Monday, EU foreign ministers voiced support for the Arab monitors and adopted more sanctions against Syria’s military brass, adding security officials on a new list of people and firms hit by a travel ban and asset freeze.
“We call again for the violence to stop, for the (Arab League) monitors to be able to do their job unheeded,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose bloc is already enforcing an arms embargo and oil imports ban on Syria.