Prince Saud Al-Faisal announces in Arab FMs meeting that Saudi observers quit Syria mission because kingdom refuses to be false witness

Arab FMs call for forming national unity government, extension of observers’ mission, Assad passing powers to vice president

Syrian FM tells Arab League of government’s insistence to use force against opposition

Europe escalates sanctions, U.S. accuses Iran of helping Syria to evade sanctions

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs warned of the serious danger of the ongoing situation in Syria, stressing that such danger requires from all Arab to bear their historical responsibility before God Almighty.

Addressing a meeting of Arab League Council at the level of his Arab colleagues in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said: 'This situation couldn't be continued and we won't accept it by no means to be false witnesses or to be exploited by whoever to justify the crimes committed against the Syrian people'.

He added that 'Based on that, I announce the withdraw of the Kingdom's Arab League monitors from Syria in protest against the Syrian government's failure to comply with any of the elements of the Arab solution plan which aims to save the dear Syrian blood'.

Following are the main points of Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs' speech before the Arab Foreign Ministers Council:

The situation in Syria is so serious to the extent that all Arab countries should shoulder their historic responsibility as we see innocent blood pours on its territories on daily bases, a difficult test of conscience for all of us as we were presumed to be most keen and credible towards our brethrens who are subject to the most brutal kinds of suppression from those who were presumed to be the defenders and protectors of their safety, rights, security and interests.

As you know the Council has forged an intact plan aiming to stop bloodshed and all kinds of violence, release detainees who were kept behind the bars during and after protest-related current incidents, eliminate cities, towns and neighborhoods from all armed aspects, open the way for legal organizations and the media to freely move in Syria so as to pave the way for a national dialogue that would conduce to the required solution.

The solution will never be reached without meeting the aspirations of the Syrian people through the achievement of power peaceful transition.

We have repeatedly expressed our feelings of amicability and fraternity to the interests of the Syrian people without discrimination or difference. Our objective is to stop bloodshed, preserve Syria's integrity, security and stability and evade the dangers of devastating civil struggle or slipping to chaos and destruction.

The Council's position is a true Islamic attitude.

Based on the Syrian government official endorsement of the Arab League proposed solution, we have agreed to take part in the Arab monitors team whose mission is not to work as negotiators or mediators but to monitor Syrian government’s commitment of strictly and apparently carrying out the plan, provided that the Syrian government provides security and freedom for the monitoring team to move in Syria.

But, regrettably, Syrian authorities did not live up to any of the articles of the Arab plan. Not only that, but was quick to accuse Arab leaders and their countries of conspiracy against Syria. At this point, we ask whether it is a genuine Arab behavior that the ruler kills his people or that Arab armies' mission it to devastate their country mates instead of protecting them and their souls, properties and safeguard their security and stability.

This situation couldn't continue and by no means, we could not accept to become false witnesses or to be exploited by whoever to justify the crimes committed against the Syrian people or to cover those crimes.

Based on that, I announce that my country is withdrawing its monitors from Syria due to Syria's falling short of complying with any of the elements of the Arab solution plan which basically aims at sparing the dear Syrian blood.

We call on our Arab colleagues to remain seriously and credibly committed to their Foreign Ministers Council's resolution of imposing sanctions on the Syrian government to mount pressure on it and coerce it to be really and not verbally committed to its pledges. I don't think that any party in our Council will think about canceling those sanctions as long as the Syrian government was adamant not to abide by the elements of the Arab solution.

We also call on the world community, including our brothers in the Islamic countries and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States, to shoulder their responsibility according to the Arab solution and mount every possible pressure to convince the Syrian government of the importance of the prompt and comprehensive implementation of that solution.

Prince Saud had received a delegation of Syrian opposition National Council led by Dr. Burhan Galiun.

During the meeting, they reviewed the latest developments of the current Syrian situation in the light of the report submitted by the Head of Arab Observers mission, which is set to be discussed by the Arab Syrian crisis-related committee.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal listened to a briefing by Dr. Galiun on the Syrian National Council's vision for the prospects of cooperation given the continuous violence and killings taking place in Syria.

The Syrian government rejected an Arab League proposal that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to a deputy and set up a unity government as a prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections.

The initiative, approved by Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, is a violation of the country’s sovereignty, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing an unidentified government official.

“We ask the Syrian regime to leave and hand over power,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber al Thani said. “We are with the Syrian people, with their will and with their aspirations.”

The Arab League sent observers to Syria on Dec. 26 to ensure Assad follows through on his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti- government demonstrations. The plan approved calls for the government and opposition to start a dialogue under the umbrella of the Arab League within two weeks and the formation of a national unity government within two months.

“This confirms that all Arab countries today consider the regime of Bashar al-Assad to be finished and that it must be replaced,” said Burhan Ghaliun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said the proposals were the “start of something quite significant.” “It may be a very long end game but I do believe that they are now working for a post-Assad Syria and a transition for that to start,” Shaikh said in a telephone interview from Doha.

Syria agreed on Dec. 19 to allow Arab League monitors into the country in exchange for the league dropping plans to go to the United Nations Security Council.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi has sent a request to the Syrian government to extend the group’s monitoring mission from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24, the league’s spokesman, Wageeh Maleeha, told reporters in Cairo.

The government’s killing of protesters has continued during the deployment, according to human rights activists, U.S. and UN officials. A group of 145 Arab organizations, including members of the Syrian opposition, called on the organization on Jan. 18 to withdraw its observers.

Anwar Malek, a former monitor who quit and backed the call for withdrawal, told Al Arabiya television that the observers found listening devices under their pillows and that he was threatened with online publication of pictures of him taken while in the shower.

Mohammed al-Dabi, head of the Arab League’s monitoring mission in Syria, told a news conference in Cairo that the mission’s mandate is limited and isn’t aimed at stopping the killing.

He spoke a day after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal told the foreign ministers’ meeting that his country was pulling out its monitors because Syria “has fallen short of complying with any of the elements of the Arab plan,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prince Saud urged the international community, including Russia and China, to exert “all possible pressure to convince the Syrian government” to implement the plan.

The European Union added 22 people and eight organizations to its Syria sanctions list.

“The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional measures against the regime, not to the civilian population, as long as repression continues,” it said in a statement.

Assad has repeatedly blamed the unrest on a “foreign conspiracy,” “terrorists” and religious extremists.

The revolt against Assad started in March amid popular movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, while forcing Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to cede power.

The UN estimates that more than 5,000 Syrians have died during the violence, in the greatest challenge to Assad’s rule since he took over from his father in 2000.

Syria’s foreign minister said that “half the universe” is conspiring against his country, as Gulf Arab nations withdrew from a monitoring mission in Syria because the government has failed to stop 10 months of violence.

International pressure is building on Syria, not only from the West but increasingly from Arab nations as well. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed since Syria’s uprising began in March, sparked by the arrest of a group of teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the country’s south.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem signaled the crackdown will continue, saying in Damascus that the government will take any steps necessary to defend against chaos.

Activists, meanwhile, reported more violence nationwide, with more than 15 people killed and possibly many more.

Syria has claimed that armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy are behind the revolt, not protesters seeking change in one of the most authoritarian states in the Middle East.

“It is the duty of the Syrian government to take what it sees as necessary measures to deal with those armed groups that spread chaos,” Moallem said during a televised news conference.

He also said it was clear that some Arab countries have joined the conspiracy against Syria — a clear reference to the Gulf countries’ decision to withdraw their monitors and to the call by the Arab League for Syria to create a national unity government in two months.

The plan also provides for President Assad to give his vice president full powers to cooperate with the proposed government to enable it to carry out its duties during a transitional period.

Damascus has rejected the plan as a violation of national sovereignty.

The decision by the six oil-rich Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — to pull out their monitors is a blow to an Arab League observer mission that has been mired by controversy, but that, for many, represented the only hope for an Arab solution to the crisis in Syria, away from outside intervention.

Now, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which contributed 52 of the estimated 160 observers, has called on the U.N. Security Council to take all “necessary measures” to force Syria to implement the Arab League’s peace plan.

The GCC long has advocated referring Syria to the Security Council, putting it in conflict with other Arab states. Security Council action could open the door for more economic sanctions and possible military intervention, although veto-wielding member Russia firmly opposes punitive measures against its longtime ally.

“The decision was made after careful and thorough monitoring of events in Syria and the conviction by the GCC that the bloodshed and the killing of innocent people there is continuing,” the GCC statement said.

Moallem brushed off the threat of Security Council action. “If they go to (U.N. headquarters in) New York or the moon, as long as we don’t pay their tickets, this is their business,” he said.

He acknowledged there is little hope for an Arab solution but tried to portray confidence, saying Syria had the strong support of powerful allies in Iran as well as Russia.

U.S. officials say they have uncovered an effort by Iran to help its close ally, Syria, evade U.S. sanctions on its petroleum sector.

The story, first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," was confirmed to RFE/RL by a U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson, who said that officials had identified an Iran-chartered tanker attempting to bring Syrian oil to Tehran for resale, with the proceeds apparently to be funneled back to Damascus.

"The Wall Street Journal," citing unnamed "officials and executives," reported on January 19 that the tanker took on 91,000 metric tons of crude last November 19, 20, and 21 at the Syrian port of Baniyas, and intended to unload it at Iran's Ras Bahregan oil terminal.

The tanker, named "The Mire," was insured by the U.S. branch of the Mutual Protection and Indemnity Club (P&I) and registered by the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR), whose headquarters are in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

U.S. officials notified the companies that in picking up Syrian oil, the ship had violated U.S. sanctions that prohibit doing business with Syria's petroleum sector.

P&I subsequently rescinded the ship's insurance coverage, and LISCR revoked its registry, effectively preventing its travel in international waters.

Scott Bergeron, the CEO of Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, told RFE/RL that the company's oversight responsibilities do not include a duty to monitor the commercial activities of vessels they register.

He said his company has issued advisories to its fleet informing them of applicable sanctions.

The Treasury Department spokesperson, who spoke on background, noted that most maritime insurance companies are based in the United States or European Union, meaning that ships intent on carrying Syrian oil will have to look elsewhere for coverage or risk being caught amid U.S. scrutiny.

The spokesperson said the incident is in keeping with Iran's history of defying Western sanctions regimes and shows the strength of Tehran's relationship with Damascus, as well as the impact sanctions against are having against Syria, which he said is "trying anything it can do to offload its oil."

The U.S. ban on companies doing business with Syria's petroleum sector was imposed in August 2011 as part of a package of sanctions aimed at pressuring President Bashar al-Assad to stop his government's deadly violence against antigovernment protesters and step down.

The EU instituted a similar ban.

Washington and Brussels have also accused Tehran of providing weapons and technology to Damascus to fuel the crackdown.

There was no immediate response to the U.S. investigation by Iran or Syria.

Earlier this month, Cyprus held up a Russian-operated ship carrying what local officials said were munitions bound for Syria, in defiance of Western sanctions.

The ship was released after Cyprus said it received assurances that the ship would not complete the delivery.

However, it later docked at the Syrian port of Tartus.