BEIRUT - A clash between Syrian forces and army defectors erupted yesterday in a suburb of the tightly held capital of Damascus, adding urgency just as the Arab League was extending an observers’ mission that so far has failed to end long months of bloody violence.
The two events outlined how an uprising against President Bashar Assad that started with mass popular protests is moving now toward an armed conflict that could draw international intervention - an outcome the Arab League is trying to avoid.
Arab League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, extended the much-criticized observers mission for another month, according to a statement from the 22-member organization. The League decided to add more observers and provide them with additional resources, the officials said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters that his country will pull out its observers because “the Syrian government did not implement the Arab plan.’’
Saudi Arabia has been one of the harshest Arab critics of the crackdown. It recalled its ambassador from Damascus last year in protest.
The observer mission is supposed to be the first step in implementing an Arab League plan to end the Syria crisis.
So far the observer mission has not gone well. Though some credit it with tamping down violence in some places, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said yesterday that 976 people, including 54 children and 28 women, have been killed since the observers began their mission last month.
The UN estimates some 5,400 have been killed since it began in March.