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Syria ‘accepts’ Arab plan for observers

Filed on December 6, 2011
Syria ‘accepts’ Arab plan for observers

DAMASCUS — Syria said it will accept observers as part of an Arab League plan to end deadly unrest if its conditions are met, in a last-ditch bid to stave off crippling sanctions.

‘The Syrian government responded positively to the signing of the protocol’ on sending observers ‘based on the Syrian understanding of this cooperation,’ foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told reporters.

Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi said he received a letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem outlining his government’s about-face but which contained ‘new demands.’

‘We’ve contacted Arab foreign ministers and they have been apprised of the Syrian letter,’ Arabi said, adding consultations were underway. Muallem had sent the letter late Sunday as a League deadline was set to expire.

Damascus has refused to sign the proposal, arguing the text undermines its sovereignty, prompting the Arab League on November 27 to impose sweeping sanctions on Syria.

The Arab bloc warned Saturday of new punitive measures against Syria unless it allows monitors access to the country where the UN estimates a crackdown on anti-regime protests has killed more than 4,000 people since March.

The international community wants monitors in Syria to keep a check on President Bashar Al Assad’s forces who have been accused by the United Nations of rights abuses.

At least seven more civilians were killed on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after a bloody weekend during which 63 people died nationwide.

The Britain-based Observatory also reported that mutinous soldiers killed four members of the security forces, including an officer, at the southern protest hub of Dael in Daraa province.

It also accused security forces of arresting 18 students, eight in a high school in the coastal town of Jabla for allegedly insulting the president, and the others near Damascus for joining an anti-regime protest.

And in the flashpoint province of Homs, pro-regime ‘Shabiha’ militiamen abducted a bus driver and his 13 passengers, it said.

Meanwhile the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression said the authorities arrested blogger Razan Ghazzawi at the border with Jordan as she headed to Amman on Sunday to represent them at a workshop on press freedom.

Syria has asked in its message to the Arab League for ‘minor changes which do not touch on the substance of the protocol and for clarifications that are not linked to the nature of the mission,’ Makdisi said.

‘We asked them for the names and nationalities of the observers,’ he said.

‘We hope for a positive reply. The success of this mission depends on Arab intentions.’

Syria insists on the terms of Article 8 of the Arab League’s charter which stipulates members must respect the systems of government in other member states and avoid any action to change them, Makdisi said.

Last month Syria was suspended from the 22-member Arab bloc amid mounting calls from world leaders for Assad to quit for failing to halt the bloodshed in his country.

The deployment of an observer mission is part of the League’s proposal to end the violence in Syria, which continues to rage despite offers of political reforms by Assad.

Sunday’s deadline was announced in Doha by Qatari Prime Minister Shaikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who also warned against the internationalisation of the crisis if Damascus did not heed the Arab call.

‘As Arabs we fear that if the situation continues things will get out of Arab control,’ Shaikh Hamad said.

His comments came after an Arab League ministerial panel on Saturday imposed fresh sanctions on Syria, following an initial wave of sweeping measures against the Assad regime adopted on November 27.

The sanctions voted last month included an immediate freeze on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and of Syrian regime assets in Arab countries.

On Saturday in Doha, the Arab panel put 19 Syrian officials on a blacklist banning them from travel to Arab countries and saying their assets would be frozen by those states.

The panel also called for an embargo on the sale of Arab arms to Syria and cut by half the number of Arab flights into and out of Syria — including its national carrier Syrian Air — with effect from December 15.

Syria has already been hit by a raft of EU and US sanctions, and last Friday the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution ‘strongly condemning the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities.’

Damascus — which accuses ‘armed terrorist groups’ of fuelling the unrest — rejected the resolution as ‘unjust’ and said it was ‘prepared in advance by parties hostile to Syria.’

Iraq opposes sanctions against Syria, a dominant trading partner, while Jordan said on Monday it does not want to impose trade sanctions and a flight ban on its neighbour because they will harm Jordanian interests.

Meanwhile, official Syrian media said on Monday that Damascus had suspended a free-trade agreement with former ally Turkey and imposed a 30 percent tax on Turkish imports to punish Ankara for imposing sanctions on its neighbour.

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