CAIRO - The grand imam of Al-Azhar has called on Arab countries to take 'serious and urgent' steps to halt the Syrian government's 10-month bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
[Arab intervention] will prevent outsiders from transgressing upon our Arab lands, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb said in a statement cited by Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday, January 20.
The leader of the preeminent authority in Sunni Islam added that he and other scholars from the institution feel grief and pain over civilians' blood flowing in Syria.
We feel deeply sad for the continued bloodshed in Syria and urge the Arab rulers to take all serious and urgent measures to protect the Syrian people's blood and consolidate their freedom, he added.
Tayyeb's statement preceded an important Arab League meeting of foreign ministers scheduled for Sunday, where they are expected to receive the report of League observers returning from Syria.
At the meeting, the head of the observers' mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, would be presenting a report to the Arab ministers to discuss the League's next step.
Despite widespread criticism of the mission, its deputy chief of operations, Ali Jarush, told reporters that it was likely to be extended by a month.
"Everything indicates that the observer mission in Syria will be extended by a month, since the first month has not been enough as part of it was taken up by logistic preparations," Jarush said in the Egyptian capital, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Human Rights Watch said the observers' presence had failed to rein in the Syrian regime's crackdown, with activists reporting 506 civilians killed and another 490 detained since the monitors first deployed on December 26.
It urged the regional bloc "to publicly recognize that Syria has not respected the League's plan and work with the Security Council to increase pressure on the authorities and effectively curtail the use of fire power."
The Arab League monitors' mission, which started on December 26, is the first international intervention on the ground in Syria since anti-regime protests, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, started.
It came as part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that calls for the withdrawal of security forces from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
Pressure mounted on the Arab League to seek UN intervention in the face of growing discontent with the observer mission in Syria which failed to staunch 10 months of killing.
The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghaliun, headed to Cairo to lobby Arab ministers to refer the observer mission's findings to the UN Security Council, AFP reported.
Ghaliun planned to ask the League "to transfer the file on Syria to the UN Security Council with a view to securing a decision to establish a buffer zone and a no-fly zone" in Syria, an SNC statement said.
The SNC were also preparing a counter report to the one Dabi is due to submit to the pan-Arab body, the opposition council spokesman said.
A tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia. Moscow insists the opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.
Deadlock in the Security Council over Syria has raised the stakes of an Arab solution to the crisis.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Qatari proposal to send peacekeepers was not feasible "in the present regional context," in an interview published by the regional daily Ouest-France.
"On the contrary, we are talking to the opposition, Juppe said.
"We cannot accept the ferocious repression by the Syrian leadership of its people, a repression that has led the entire country into chaos, and a chaos that will help extremists of all kinds," he added.
The United Nations says about 6,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests.
Syrian authorities blame armed groups for the violence, saying they have killed 2,000 soldiers and police.