Arab League rebuffs Syrian bid to amend monitor plan

Arab League rebuffs Syrian bid to amend monitor plan

AMMAN - The Arab League said on Sunday it had rebuffed a request by Damascus to amend plans for a 500-strong monitoring mission to Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad disregarded a deadline to halt violent repression of protesters.



By Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters)

Published: Sun 20 Nov 2011, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:34 AM

Two rocket-propelled grenades hit a major ruling party building in Damascus on Sunday, residents said, the first attack by insurgents — mainly army defectors — reported inside the Syrian capital since street demonstrations against 41 years of rule by the Assad family broke out in March.

Assad said he had no choice but to pursue his crackdown on unrest because his foes were armed. “The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue. Syria will not bow down,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby rejected Syria’s approach about altering a plan for the fact-finding mission — which would include military personnel and human rights experts — in a letter to Syria’s foreign minister.

“The additions requested by the Syrian counterpart affect the heart of the protocol and fundamentally change the nature of the mission,” said the letter, released by the Arab League.

The Cairo-based League had given Damascus three days from a meeting on Nov. 16 to abide by a deal to withdraw military forces from restive cities, start talks between the government and opposition and pave the way for an observer team.

It was not immediately clear what action the Arab League would take after the deadline passed unheeded by Damascus. The pan-Arab body had threatened sanctions for non-compliance, and it suspended Syria’s membership in a surprise move last week.

NO NEW TALKS IN SIGHT

“Although the time frame has ended, there have been no meetings or calls for meetings except at the level of delegations (to the League),” a representative of one Arab state at the League told Reuters.

In a statement, the League said it remained committed to a peaceful, Arab-engineered solution to the Syrian upheaval, touched off by other Arab popular revolts that have overthrown the autocratic leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya this year.

Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups which they say have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police. By a United Nations account, some 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the unrest.

Assad, speaking after his forces killed 17 more protesters on Saturday, signalled no retreat from his iron fist policy.

“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighbouring countries, prevent sabotage and enforce law and order,” he said in video footage on the Sunday Times website.

Assad said there would be elections in February or March when Syrians would vote for a parliament to create a new constitution and that would include provision for a presidential ballot.

The Syrian Free Army, comprising army defectors and based in neighbouring Turkey, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Baath Party building in Damascus.

“Security police blocked off the square where the Baath’s Damascus branch is located. But I saw smoke rising from the building and fire trucks around it,” said a witness who declined to be named.

“The attack was just before dawn and the building was mostly empty. It seems to have been intended as a message to the regime,” he said.

The attack could not be independently confirmed. The authorities have barred most independent journalists from entering the country during the revolt.

It was the second hit on a high profile target in a week, underscoring a growing opposition challenge to Assad - who blames “armed terrorist acts” for the unrest - from a nascent insurgency alongside mostly peaceful protests that have persisted despite the intensifying crackdown.

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is a member of the Alawite minority community, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that dominates the state, the army and security apparatus in the majority Sunni Muslim country of 20 million.

The Syrian Free Army said the grenade attack was a response to the refusal of Damascus to release tens of thousands of political prisoners and return troops to barracks, as called for by the plan agreed between the Arab League and Damascus.

NO-FLY, BUFFER ZONES?

Non-Arab Turkey, once an ally of Assad, is also taking an increasingly tough attitude to Damascus.

Turkish newspapers said on Saturday Ankara had contingency plans to create no-fly or buffer zones to protect civilians in neighbouring Syria if the bloodshed worsens.

“It’s almost certain that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is going down, all the assessments are made based on this assumption. Foreign Ministry sources say that the sooner the regime goes down, the better for Turkey,” one Turkish paper reported.

Activists in the central city of Homs said the body of Farzat Jarban, an activist who had been filming and broadcasting pro-democracy rallies there, was found dumped near a private hospital on Saturday with two bullet wounds.

“Security police are no longer just shooting protesters, they are targeting activists when they least suspect it, such as when they take their children to school. Sometimes they don’t shoot to kill but to neutralise,” said a doctor from Homs who has fled to Jordan.

“I treated an activist recently...They shot him in the thigh and by the time his family got him to me gangrene had spread and his leg needed to be amputated,” he said.

Tanks and troops deployed in Homs after large anti-Assad protests six months ago. The authorities say they have since arrested tens of “terrorists” in the city who have been killing civilians and planting bombs in public places.

Dissident colonel Riad al-Asaad, organising defectors in Syria from his new base in southern Turkey, denied government allegations that adjacent states were allowing arms smuggling into Syria. “Not a single bullet” had been smuggled from abroad, he told al Jazeera television.

Weapons were brought by defectors, obtained in raids on the regular army or bought from arms dealers inside Syria, he said.

Asaad said no foreign military intervention was needed other than providing a no-fly zone and weapons supplies, and that more deserters would swell his Free Syrian Army’s ranks if there were protected zones to which they could flee.

“Soldiers and officers in the army are waiting for the right opportunity,” he told al Jazeera.

Following is a timeline of events in Syria since protests began:

March 16 - Security forces break up a gathering in Marjeh Square in Damascus of 150 protesters holding pictures of imprisoned relatives. Witnesses say 30 people are arrested.

March 24 - President Bashar al-Assad orders the formation of a committee to study how to raise living standards and lift the law covering emergency rule, in place for 48 years.

March 29 - Government resigns.

April 3 - Assad asks Adel Safar, a former agriculture minister, to form a new government.

April 8 - Demonstrators protest across Syria; 22 people killed in Deraa, another 15 elsewhere, rights group says.

April 14 - Assad presents a new cabinet and orders the release of detainees arrested during a month of protests.

April 19 - Government passes bill lifting emergency rule.

April 22 - Security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad kill at least 100 protesters, a rights group says.

May 23 - European Union imposes sanctions on Assad and nine other senior members of the government.

June 20 - In his third speech since protests began, Assad pledges to pursue a national dialogue on reform.

June 27 - Syrian intellectuals call for sweeping political change at a rare conference allowed by the authorities.

July 8 - Thousands rally in Hama calling for Assad to go; U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier visit the city to show support for protesters.

July 10 - Opposition groups boycott talks with the government and will not negotiate until Assad ends crackdown.

July 31 - Syrian tanks storm Hama, residents say, after besieging it for nearly a month. At least 80 people are killed.

Aug. 7 - Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recalls his ambassador from Syria. Kuwait recalls its envoy the next day.

Aug. 18 - U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time calls on Assad to step down.

Aug. 21 - Assad says he expects parliamentary elections in February 2012 after reforms that will let groups other than his Baath party take part.

Sept. 2 - The European Union imposes a ban on purchases of Syrian oil and warns of further steps unless crackdown ends.

Sept. 10 - Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby says he has agreed a series of measures with Assad to help end violence.

Sept. 15 - Syrian opposition activists announce members of a Syrian National Council to provide an alternative to government

Oct. 2 - Syria’s main opposition groups call on the international community to take action to protect peaceful protesters, in a statement from the Syrian National Council.

Oct. 4 - Russia and China veto a European-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria.

Oct. 7 - Syria says a national investigation is under way into killings, including those of 1,100 security forces.

Oct. 24 - The United States pulls its ambassador out of Syria because of threats to his safety.

Oct. 26 - The city of Homs goes on strike to protest against the intensifying military crackdown.

Oct. 31 - NATO rules out the possibility of intervention in Syria but says Damascus should draw lessons from Libya.

Nov. 2 - Syria agrees to an Arab League plan to withdraw its army from cities, free political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition. The next day activists say security forces killed 11 people in Homs.

Nov. 8 - More than 3,500 people have been killed in Syria’s crackdown on protesters, the United Nations says.

Nov. 12 - The Arab League suspends Syria. Crowds attack the Saudi Arabian embassy in Damascus and French and Turkish consulates in Latakia.

Nov. 14 - Jordan’s King Abdullah becomes first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

-- Elaraby meets representatives of Arab civil society and agrees to send a 500-strong fact-finding committee to Syria.

Nov. 16 - Army defectors attack an Air Force Intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus. The Free Syrian Army, set up by deserters, is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, based in Turkey.

-- Arab foreign ministers give Damascus 3 days to implement a road map to end the bloodshed and allow in observers. France and Morocco recall their ambassadors.

Nov. 19 - Assad vows to pursue a crackdown on protests demanding his removal. He says there will be elections in February or March when Syrians will vote for a parliament to create a new constitution. An Arab League deadline for Syria to end its repression passes with no sign of violence abating.

Nov. 20 - Rocket-propelled grenades hit a Baath Party building in Damascus. Syrian Free Army claims responsibility.

-- The Arab League rejects a request by Damascus to amend plans to send a 500-strong monitoring mission to Syria.


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