Syria to allow Arab League monitors to observe cease fire with protesters

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 19, 2011 13:12 EDT
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Syrian government supporters wearing military uniforms salute at a pro-regime rally in Damascus Monday. Syria finally gave its agreement Monday to an Arab observer mission to monitor a deal to end nine months of bloodshed, ending weeks of prevarication that had prompted the Arab League to adopt sanctions. (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)
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Syria on Monday pledged full cooperation with the Arab League after it finally agreed to allow an observer mission to monitor a deal to end nine months of bloodshed, in a move dismissed by the opposition.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said an advance team of observers would head to Damascus within 72 hours, and the mission will last for a renewable initial period of a month.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem welcomed the deal signed at Arab League headquarters in Cairo after weeks of prevarication and hoped that now the bloc will lift sweeping sanctions imposed on the Damascus regime.

But members of the opposition Syrian National Council meeting in Tunis dismissed Damascus’s acceptance of the League plan as “a manoeuvre.”

After the deal was signed, Muallem told a Damascus news conference: “Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers’ mission from the Arab League.”

He said the deal would not impinge on Syrian sovereignty after the League agreed to 70 percent of the changes sought by Damascus.

“Within two or three days, an advance team of observers headed by Arab League Assistant Secretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal, including security, legal and administrative observers, will be sent,” Arabi told reporters.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad, who signed the accord, Arabi said the mission was part of a broader Arab peace plan.

“The protocol is nothing but an Arab mechanism to go to Syria and move freely in various areas to confirm the implementation of the Arab plan which the Syrian government had previously agreed,” he said.

The plan, endorsed by Syria on November 2, also calls for a complete halt to the violence, releasing detainees and the complete withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.

The advance party of observers will be followed by 10-strong teams of experts specialising in human rights, legal and security issues, Arabi said, urging all parties concerned to make a show of “goodwill.”

France, which has spearheaded international pressure on the Damascus regime to end its deadly crackdown, said the observers could not be in place quickly enough.

“We regret there have been 30 more deaths in the past two days. It’s urgent,” a foreign ministry spokesman in Paris said.

There were more reports of bloodshed on Monday.

Activists said at least six civilians were killed by security forces across the country and many wounded, including a child in the restive Damascus neighbourhood of Midan.

The child was wounded when security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators at the funeral of a 13-year-old girl killed on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Hala Mujaned was struck by a bullet in the back, another group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported.

Another child was seriously wounded on Monday when security forces opened fire in the northern Idlib province, where several other people were also wounded, the Observatory said in a statement received in Nicosia.

Three members of the regular army were killed in Idlib province in clashes with deserters in the town of Maaret Numan, it added.

Syria blames the unrest on “armed terrorist groups” — not peaceful protesters as claimed by Western powers and rights groups — and Muallem said he hopes the observer mission will vindicate this contention.

“There are many countries in the world who don’t wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria.” he said. The observers “will come and see that they are present.”

Muallem said the interior ministry will provide security escorts, but insisted that the monitors will only be allowed to visit protest hubs and other flashpoints, not sensitive military sites.

Syria will also allow in foreign media provided they report objectively, he added.

He said Syria’s Cold War ally Russia, which in October used its Security Council veto to block a resolution that would have threatened “targeted measures” against regime figures, had backed the observer mission.

“Russia’s position is clear, they advised Syria to sign the protocol and we implemented that,” he said, stressing however that Damascus’s decision had not been dictated from abroad.

The 22-member Arab bloc had been trying to persuade Damascus to accept the observer mission for weeks, and last month hit Syria with a raft of sanctions after it refused to sign the deal, saying it undermined Syrian sovereignty.

Under the terms of the deal, Syria must also hold talks with the opposition under League auspices.

“Within days, not more than a week, a meeting will be held for all the factions of the Syrian opposition at the Arab League to flesh out its positions and after that meeting the Syrian government will be invited to hold a dialogue with the opposition,” Arabi said.

Muallem insisted the regime was sincere in its promises of reform and reiterated a call on the opposition to join the regime for talks.

“We want to emerge from this crisis and build a safe, modern Syria, a Syria that will be a model of democracy,” he said.

“A political solution is based on a national dialogue,” he added.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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