Syria says it will not attend an Arab League meeting in Rabat Wednesday to discuss the current situation in the country.
The meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Morocco comes four days after the league decided to suspend Syria’s membership because Syria continues a deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters instead of implementing an Arab peace initiative.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday Damascus has decided not to participate in the meeting “in light of statements by officials in Morocco.” It provided no other details. Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said earlier that Syrian colleagues were welcome at the meeting.
Syria’s announcement came hours after the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that security forces killed more than 80 people in the last 24 hours, making it one of the deadliest spans of an eight-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The group said it documented the killings of 38 civilians and 18 suspected army defectors in Daraa province Monday. It said many deaths were also reported in the central cities of Hama and Homs, including several people whose bodies were found with signs of torture.
The rights group added that at least 34 government soldiers were reportedly killed in clashes Monday with the Syrian Free Army, composed of military defectors.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties because Syria bars most foreign journalists from the country. Syrian rights activists say about 200 other people were killed this month in the government’s crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and former ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said the departure of the Syrian leader was “inevitable” as calls for an end to his bloody crackdown on dissent continued.
His comment came a day after Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to urge Syria’s president to resign.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon again urged Mr. Assad to “stop the killing his own people,” while the Security Council strongly condemned the attacks on several embassies in Damascus and other cities and called on Syria’s government to protect diplomatic sites and personnel.
The United States called on Arab leaders to step up pressure on Syria ahead of the meeting in Morocco.
Syrian state television, meanwhile, reported Tuesday the government had released at least 1,100 people arrested during the unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to appease Arab League demands.
The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in connection with Syria’s anti-government uprising since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed terrorists and religious extremists.