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Syrian activists say 14 protesters died today in demonstrations across the country. Meanwhile, a mixed message from the rest of the world. Russia stepped forward with a tough new proposal at the United Nations, and the Arab League took a step back. Arab ministers had approved an unprecedented package of sanctions against Syria, but a meeting in Cairo to set the terms of the sanctions has been suspended indefinitely.
NPR's Deborah Amos has that story from Beirut.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: An editorial in a Lebanese newspaper is one sign of the widespread frustration with the Arab League. Under the headline No Guts, No Glory, the author accuses the league of playing into its reputation as toothless, with the result that more people die. It's an unusually tough critique, but the Syrian uprising tops most broadcasts on satellite news channels here, with those grainy images of death and suffering.
Can the Arab League protect Syria's threatened population and avoid more calls for international intervention? That now seems unlikely.
SALMAN SHAIKH: It's been two steps forward, one step back diplomacy. That tells you that there is still no clear consensus in the Arab League.
AMOS: That's Salman Shaikh, head of the Brookings Center in Qatar. He says there was consensus a few weeks ago when, for the first time in its history, the Arab League acted with unity, suspending Syria's membership and imposing tough sanctions unless Damascus agreed to an Arab League peace plan.
But almost as soon as the vote was announced, Lebanon and Iraq opted out. Jordan complained sanctions would damage Jordan's economy. Egypt and Algeria pulled their support. The old Middle East was back setting the stage for the suspension of Saturday's meeting, he says.
SHAIKH: Now, when we come to the actual implementation of what they are trying to do on the Syrian case, it's proving to be much more difficult.
AMOS: The Gulf states, dominated by Sunni Muslims, have been the most active in pressing President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite regime. Qatar has taken the lead. Once a close ally, Qatar cancelled high-priced projects in Syria and withdrew the ambassador after a Syrian mob attacked the embassy in Damascus.
But even Qatar hasn't shown it's willing to go the distance against Assad, says Blake Hounshell, based in Doha and editor of Foreign Policy magazine.
BLAKE HOUNSHELL: None of the Gulf countries have called for him to step down. They've called for reforms. They've called for him to stop killing his people. And they've given him chance after chance, every deadline is missed, and they argue over the commas in their documents. And they haven't made their intentions clear.
AMOS: It's a sign, he says, that Syria is complicated, the prospect of regime change still considered dangerous. Neighboring Iraq is a lesson felt keenly in a week when the region is watching the U.S. pullout.
Western governments have been tightening sanctions against Syria for months. When the Arab League voted for sanctions, too, it appeared a consensus was building that could be led by Arab states. The move won approval with the Arab public, especially in Qatar.
Leyan al-Thani, a 16-year-old high school student, says she can't watch the Syrian protest videos because they're so brutal.
LEYAN AL-THANI: I don't think anyone should be treated like that. As a dictator, he should go.
AMOS: The Arab League seems unlikely to deliver that message for now. For Syrian activist Rami Jarrah, the Arab League missed its chance months ago.
RAMIREZ JARRAH: I think that the situation in Syria has escalated and gone past the level of the Arab League actually doing something.
AMOS: Escalation includes almost daily clashes between army defectors and government troops and an army assault on protest cities. This has raised fears that Syria is sliding towards a civil war, but activists dispute that analysis. It's not a civil war, they say, it's a revolution opposed by the government.
Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.
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