Saudi Arabia's Gulf allies joined Riyadh Tuesday in pulling out of an Arab League monitoring team to Syria, risking the collapse of a mission whose presence has not halted violence in a 10-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said his government was still considering whether to let the monitors stay for another month and criticised the Arab League for calling Assad to step down.
Definitely the solution in Syria is not the solution suggested by the Arab League, which we have rejected, he told a news conference. They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis.
Syria is becoming an Arab and international pariah for its harsh response to an uprising against Assad in which thousands of civilians, soldiers and policemen have been killed.
Envoys to the Cairo-based League will meet later in the day to discuss whether the monitoring mission has a future, Sudan's ambassador to the 22-member body, Kamal Hassan Ali, said.
A League official said 55 Gulf Arab observers were being withdrawn from the 165-strong monitoring team.
The Arab League demanded Sunday that Assad step down in favor of a unity government to end the bloodshed, but said the observers should stay in Syria for another month.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at the time his country was quitting the mission because Syria had not implemented any part of an Arab peace plan agreed in November.
The GCC states have decided to respond to the decision of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to withdraw its monitors from the Arab League delegation to Syria, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement.
It said the GCC was certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue, and that the Syrian regime would not abide by the Arab League's resolutions.
The Arab League's demand for a change of government in Syria puts more pressure on the U.N. Security Council to overcome its divisions and take a stand on the bloodletting there.
The Arab observers deployed late last month to assess Syria's compliance with an earlier Arab League plan.
There has been some progress, but there has not been immediate or complete implementation as the Arab initiative requires, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Tuesday, adding that he would name a special envoy to Syria this week.
A Syrian opposition group condemned the mission's leader, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, for a report in which he highlighted violence by Assad's adversaries as well as by the president's security forces.
BUTCHER AND VICTIM
The Syria-based Local Coordination Committees criticised Dabi for equating the butcher and the victim, saying he had blurred the monumental hardship that millions of Syrians experience every day while they rise to reach freedom, dignity, democracy and a wise system of governance.
It said the security forces had killed 36 people, including three children, Monday. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 26.
The state news agency SANA reported the burials of nine military or law enforcement martyrs the same day.
In Syria's restive city of Homs, soldiers were stationed behind sand barriers at street corners, most shops were closed and residents were nervous, according to a Reuters reporter taken there on a government-organised visit.
Scattered shooting was a reminder of the struggle between Assad's government army and rebels who now control most of it.
Every day we have a funeral. Every day we receive between four to five dead. There was one day we buried 20 soldiers, said Haitham Othman, an officer at a military hospital where three security men were buried Monday.
The bloodshed in Syria, whose revolt was inspired by others that have toppled three Arab leaders, has battered Assad's standing in the world, with Iran among his few remaining allies.
Moualem said Russia could not accept foreign intervention in Syria, a longstanding ally. That is a red line, he added.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Security Council's silence on Syria was scandalous, but that the Arab League call for Assad's removal was a glimmer of light.
Germany's U.N. envoy, Peter Wittig, said the Arab League's request for the Council to endorse its call for Assad to hand over to his deputy could be a game-changer for the world body.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in March. Damascus says terrorists have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.
(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Damascus, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Erika Solomon and Dominic Evans in Beirut, Joe Logan in Dubai, Aly Eldaly in Cairo, John Irish in Paris and Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Mark Heinrich)