WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Arab League observers in Syria to monitor government compliance with international calls to end its violent crackdown against dissidents are preparing to leave.
The crackdown, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the past month, continues. Syrian officials haven't accepted a proposed extension of the observer mission, which Tuesday was extended for another month.
And a new Arab League peace plan, which involves President Bashar Assad stepping down in favor of a national unity government, has, not surprisingly, fallen on deaf ears.
"We do not want Arab solutions," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said. "The solution is a Syrian one based on the interests of the Syrian people."
Muallem called the Arab League plan for a transfer of power foreign meddling and expressed disdain on League plans to ask the United Nations to intervene in the crisis in Syria which has cost more than 5,000 lives since last spring.
"If they go to New York (the United Nations) or to the moon, as long as we don't pay their tickets, this is their business," he said.
Syria erupted in violence in March when demonstrators took to the streets to protest mistreatment by the country's security service. The protest in a small southern town snowballed across the country, with demands for democracy added.
Assad, who assumed power following the death of his authoritarian father in 2000, reacted with carrot and stick. He rescinded the State of Emergency under which the country operated for decades, but also sent armored units and troops to crack down on the dissent.
The heavy-handed response has continued since, with little or no heed apparently paid to international approbation, including its unprecedented suspension from Arab League membership and the organization's imposition of economic sanctions on Damascus.
Western calls for an end to violence and later of Assad's departure have similarly been ignored.
With the example of Moammar Gadhafi's fall from power in Libya and subsequent death, and that of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who is being tried for crimes during his long-tenure in office, Assad's reluctance to leave the scene is understandable.
For one thing, the United States and European nations -- vociferous in their calls for his departure -- don't appear willing to flex the military muscle they did on behalf of Libya's rebels. Although Syrian dissidents have reportedly formed a national unity organization, it has yet to materialize to the extent that Libya's did. Syrian troops have defected but, unlike Libya, control no major portions of the country.
Economic sanctions are reportedly biting but neighbors Iraq and Lebanon refuse to abide by them, giving Damascus trade outlets.
In the United Nations, which opened the door to foreign military intervention in Libya, has refused to do so in relation to Syria. Russia and China, veto-toting members of the Security Council, are opposed to such measures against the Assad regime.
Indeed, Russia recently sent weaponry to the Damascus government.
That leaves the Arab League, which for all its intentions and efforts, has so far proved impotent in elbowing the Assad regime to end the crackdown or any real cooperation from Assad on its initiatives to bring peace to the country.
The protests, Damascus insists, are the result of foreign meddling, including that by other Arab states.
The Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman -- announced it is withdrawing its personnel (55-60 people) from the observer team and those from the remaining Arab nations are set to do the same.
And with the United States and other Western powers burning the midnight oil over Iran and its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for sanctions over its nuclear program, there seems little international support for strong intervention in Syria.