DUBAI (Reuters) - The Arab League expressed “growing concern” Sunday about Syria and called on the authorities to stop acts of violence against protesters immediately, Qatar’s state news agency QNA quoted the league’s head as saying.
Activists reported heavy loss of life among Syrian civilians as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces staged their latest assaults Sunday on the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and elsewhere to crush a five-month uprising against his rule.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby issued a statement expressing “growing concern and strong distress over the deteriorating security conditions in Syria due to escalating violence and military operations in Hama and Deir al-Zor and other areas of Syria,” QNA said.
The assault on Deir al-Zor, capital of an oil-producing province, began one week after Assad sent the army to seize control of Hama, focal point of the protests.
Elaraby’s statement was one of the strongest made by an Arab leader since the start of the Syrian uprising, as most governments had stayed silent apparently fearing the power of the protests would move to other Arab states.
Elaraby, who took office in May, started his new job by visiting Syria but declined to give details of a meeting with Assad.
In his statement that was also carried out by the Egyptian news agency MENA, Elaraby said: “There is still a chance for the reforms that were announced by President Bashar al-Assad to be accomplished,” and called on the Syrian authorities to “stop all acts of violence” immediately.
He also called on the Syrian political powers and government to engage in serious talks, adding that the Arab League was ready to help to get Syria out of its crisis.
Elaraby’s predecessor Amr Moussa said only that he was worried about the clashes in Syria and signaled division in the 22-member body over how to proceed.
Gulf Arab states broke months of silence Saturday to express concern about over the violence in Syria. Syrian authorities say gunmen have killed 500 police and soldiers since March.
Writing by Isabel Coles and Yasmine Saleh; Editing by David Stamp