Syria's embattled regime was facing tougher punitive measures from the Arab League last night after it seemed set to miss a new deadline to allow observers to enter the country.
The pan-Arab body set yesterday as the deadline for Damascus to implement a key part of a peace plan aimed at halting the brutal crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
Despite Damascus's assertions that it was preparing to comply with the plan, the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, was quoted by the Al Jazeera news network as saying he that did not expect the Syrian government to sign an agreement.
It would be the second deadline Syria has missed since 25 November, when the Arab League approved a series of economic sanctions following similar moves by the EU and the US.
The UN has warned that Syria is on the verge of civil war. It estimates that more than 4,000 people, including 300 children, have been killed since the uprising began in March.