Iraq to launch mediation to end Syria crisis
DAMASCUS — Iraq’s foreign minister will hold talks with the Damascus regime and opposition groups to try to end months of unrest, as deadly clashes raged Sunday between deserters and regular troops.
A senior Omani government official meanwhile said the Arab League was “optimistic” that by Monday Syria will sign a proposal to send an observer mission to the restive country.
An officer was among six troops killed in fighting in the central province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that at least 10 civilians also died by gunfire from regime forces elsewhere.
Syria’s SANA state news agency meanwhile reported that “huge masses” demonstrated on Sunday in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, voicing opposition to “foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs.”
Iraq is trying to mediate an end to nine months of bloody unrest in Syria where the UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in a regime crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
On Saturday Iraqi National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh was in Damascus where he said he had “positive” talks with Syria’s embattled president.
He then travelled to Cairo where he met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabia, and emerged from the talks sounding upbeat.
“We had very positive discussions on Sunday with the secretary general of the Arab League, who supported our initiative alongside that of the Arab League in an effort to find a solution between the Syrians,” Fayadh said.
“Our next step is to launch our initiative, and this task will be led by the foreign minister (Hoshyar Zebari) who will announce the details and mechanisms to the Arab League and the Syrian parties soon,” he said.
“Our efforts are still continuing to reach a deal between the government and the opposition in Syria,” he said by telephone from Cairo.
“It’s too early to speak about the results.”
But the minister in charge of Omani foreign affairs appeared certain that a breakthrough could be announced as early as Monday.
“We are optimistic that Syria will join the Arab League and sign the protocol within the next 24 hours,” to allow observers on its soil, Yussef bin Alawi told reporters in Riyadh.
The Arab League has threatened to take Syria to the United Nations for procrastinating over a deal to stop its deadly crackdown on dissent, after Russia proposed a surprise draft resolution to end the conflict.
“As Russia has gone to the Security Council, a proposal will be presented in the (Arab ministers’) meeting on December 21 that the Arab League goes to the Security Council to present the Arab initiative,” the Qatari prime minister said on Saturday.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani chairs an Arab League taskforce on Syria which has been pressing Damascus to accept monitors as part of a plan to end the bloodshed.
Earlier this month Syria, facing a raft of Arab and Western punitive measures, said it allowed the mission, but laid down a number of conditions, namely the lifting of Arab sanctions.
On the ground deadly violence raged as army deserters battled loyalist troops inflicting material and human losses on Assad’s forces while more civilians were killed, the Britain-based Observatory said.
An officer was among six loyalist soldiers killed in Qusayr, in Homs province, the group said citing a dissident officer, while clashes between mutinous soldiers and troops continued in Idlib province for a second day.
“Three armoured vehicles were destroyed and those inside were wounded and killed,” it said, adding the heavy exchange of fire in the town of Qusayr led to the “partial destruction of some houses.”
Deserters also fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an army checkpoint in a neighbourhood of Homs city, setting it ablaze and killing or wounding those inside, the group said.
At least 10 civilians were also killed by gunfire from regime forces on Sunday across Syria, half of them in Homs province.
Also on Sunday regime opponents were wrapping up a three-day congress in Tunis spearheaded by the opposition Syrian National Council aimed at honing a strategy to topple Assad’s regime.
Activists also piled pressure, pursuing a general strike launched a week ago in many parts of the country, namely in Idlib and the southern province of Daraa, cradle of nine months of anti-regime dissent.