On Russian advice, Syria accepts Arab observers to monitor peace plan--deal came on deadliest day of uprising: more than 100 killed, including 60-70 "renegade soldiers"--advanced team of observers due in Syria within 72 hours--Russia and Iran welcome deal, opposition, France, U.S. are skeptical--SNC says approval of Arab league monitors is a ploy--UN condemns continuing killing.
--Deal Came on Deadliest Day of Uprising: More Than 100 Killed, Including 60-70 "Renegade Soldiers"
--Advanced Team of Observers Due in Syria Within 72 Hours
--Russia and Iran Welcome Deal, Opposition, France, U.S. Are Skeptical
--SNC Says Approval of Arab League Monitors Is a Ploy
--UN Condemns Continuing Killing
Bowing to mounting Arab and international pressure, Syria signed a deal on Monday allowing Arab League observers to monitor a plan aimed at ending its violent crackdown on a nine-month uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule, Beirut media reported on Tuesday.
However, the protocol came on the deadliest day of the uprising with activists reporting that more than 100 people, mainly army defectors, were killed, while the opposition dismissed the deal as a stalling tactic by the government.
The Arab League plan, endorsed last month, calls for removing Syrian forces and heavy weapons from city streets, starting talks with opposition leaders, releasing political prisoners, and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country, along with observers from member countries.
The Assad regime accepted the monitors after Arab leaders warned they would turn to the UN Security Council to try to end the crackdown that the U.N. says has killed at least 5,000 people since the uprising began in mid-March.
Yet, it was too early to say whether the deal, signed by Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Arab League's Assistant Secretary General Ahmed bin Helli at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, would eventually lead to a radical solution for the Syrian crisis amid Western calls for Assad to step down.
Significantly, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem suggested that Damascus agreed to sign the deal on the advice of Russia, which has upheld its support for the Assad regime against all odds.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, who witnessed the signing ceremony, said in Cairo that an initial mission headed by one of his assistants will go to Syria within a day or two to discuss plans for 500 observers to eventually deploy around the country. He said they will be in small groups of at least 10 and each team will go to a different location.
Elaraby said the signing of the protocol "did not mean the suspension of sanctions immediately," the leftist newspaper AS SAFIR reported. The Arab League imposed economic sanctions on Syria after it balked at signing the protocol on monitors last month. Elaraby said that an Arab foreign ministers meeting planned for Wednesday to discuss action against Damascus had been "postponed indefinitely."
"Damascus Accepts Russian Advice ... in Preparation for National Dialogue and Reconciliation," read the front-page banner headline of AS SAFIR on Tuesday.
The opposition newspaper AN NAHAR said in its banner headline: "Damascus has Signed the Protocol Following 'Russian Advice'; the Opposition and Paris Are Skeptical, While Moscow and Tehran Welcome it."
While Muallem said that his country signed the protocol on a Russian advice and after amendments demanded by Syrian authorities were introduced to it, the Syrian National Council (SNC), which includes a wide range of Syrian opposition parties, said Syria was "stalling" to buy time, and demanded the intervention of Arab deterrent forces, AN NAHAR reported.
A few hours after the protocol was signed, activists said between 60 to 72 army defectors were killed in the Jabal al-Zawiyeh area near the Turkish border as they tried to desert their military posts, while 30 civilians were killed in attacks by security forces in several Syrian cities, the paper said.
The signing of the protocol embarrassed the SNC, which was meeting in Tunisia, AS SAFIR said. It added that Samir Seif al-Yazil, an assistant to the Arab League chief, is expected to visit Damascus to prepare a mechanism of action between the Syrian government and the Arab League aimed at coordinating the work of observers who will begin arriving in Syria within the next 72 hours. Between 30 to 50 observers, carrying their equipment, are expected to arrive in Syria in the first stage, AS SAFIR said. They will be escorted by their own protection elements, in addition to Syrian security forces, it said.
Syria said it would allow observers to enter flashpoint provinces under its protection, but that the deal requires Syria and the Arab League to agree on responses to any proposals by the monitors, who will initially be allowed entry for one month.
Muallem rejected accusations the Syrian regime was trying to stall, even though it delayed the monitoring agreement for weeks. "The signing of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation between us and the Arab League, and we will welcome the Arab League observers," Muallem told a news conference in Damascus.
He said the observers will have a one-month mandate that can be extended by another month if both sides agree. The observers will be "free" in their movements and "under the protection of the Syrian government," he said. However, Muallem stressed that the observers will not be allowed to visit sensitive military sites.
Muallem said that he had won several unspecified modifications before signing. "If we hadn't inserted these modifications at the heart of the protocol we would not have signed it, whatever the warnings and threats," he said.
As the Arab League engaged in tough talks with the Syrian regime, violence has escalated in recent weeks in Syria with more frequent armed clashes between military defectors and security forces. The increasing militarization of the conflict has raised fears the country is sliding toward civil war.
The London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that upwards of 60 to 70 "renegade soldiers were killed this afternoon (Monday) by medium machine gun shots as they fled from their military bases on the road between Kinsafrah and Krauad Jbeil," AN NAHAR quoted the organization as saying.
The opposition Local Coordinating Committees also said that 14 people were shot dead by security forces on Monday as the Syrian Army cordoned off areas in Hama, Damascus and Idlib, AL HAYAT wrote. Three people were killed in Damascus after security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse funeral protects, killing at least two children. Three others were killed when the Army stormed Deir al-Zour.
Demonstrations rang out in the opposition cities of Aleppo, Horns, Idlib and Hasaka on Monday as the 'Strike for Dignity' entered its ninth day. Activists post videos and photographs of the demonstrations, as well as images of closed streets and shops.
Syria claims armed gangs and terrorists are behind the uprising, not protesters seeking more freedoms in one of the most totalitarian regimes in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Iran, Assad's key partner in a region where Syria's uprising risks upsetting a complex balance of power, said it found the agreement to let in observers from the Arab League "acceptable," if not ideal. Iranian Foreign Minister's assistant Hussein Amir Abdel Lahian told the Iranian TV station Al Alam that "Iran's official stance on Syria and the Arab initiative is to agree and accept whatever Bashar al-Assad sees acceptable."
In Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that the protocol signed in Cairo "provided an opportunity to guarantee the protection of all Syrian citizens and stability of the situation in the country through a mechanism for independent monitoring," AN NAHAR reported. The statement renewed Russia's insistence on the need "to halt all acts of violence in Syria and for the Syrians to solve the problems facing the country by themselves without any foreign intervention and through broad national dialogue."
France urged Syrian authorities to allow the Arab observer mission to start its duty "as soon as possible" and warned of the regime's procrastination. "We noted Syria's announcement of the signing of the protocol on sending observers. It is important that observers can effectively fulfill their mission as soon as possible on the ground," said Bernard Valero, the spokesman of French Foreign Ministry, AN NAHAR reported. Valero accused the Damascus regime of failing to honor its pledges and stalling with the international community in past months.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) accused Bashar al-Assad of signing the Arab League protocol to allow observers into the country as a ploy to buy time and discourage the Arab League from internationalization of the crisis, the Beirut daily AN NAHAR and others reported on Tuesday. Head of the SNC Burhan Ghalion said after an opposition meeting in Tunis on Monday that, "Syria's signature of the Arab League agreement is a lie aimed at buying time and discouraging the League from resorting to the United Nations," adding that, "This is just a ploy. They have no intention of implementing any initiative."
Ghalioun continued to say that, the agreement "gives yet a new opportunity to the Syrian regime" to cling to power, rather than pushing Assad to step down. "We want a firmer position ... We urge the Arab League and the United Nations to defend Syrians by establishing buffer zones and secure areas inside Syria," adding, "We need to use force--even in a limited way--or for Arab defense forces to respond ... But we will not leave our destiny in the hands of others, even if it were the United Nations."
Following the opposition's closed door meetings in the Tunisian capital, the SNC released a statement calling for foreign intervention in Syria and for the Arab League and the United Nations to move quickly to "protect civilians and protestors." The Free Syrian Army (FSA), led by dissident Army General Riad Asaad, pledged to provide support for a "media, economic, political and diplomatic siege on the regime."
Head of external relations for the SNC Radwan Ziadeh echoed Ghalioun's opinion, saying that the international community "should pay attention. The Syrian regime has considerable experience in" trickery and deception.
The U.S. State Department said that it was skeptical much would change with the signing. "We are really less interested in a signed piece of paper than we are in actions to implement established commitments," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. "We're not prepared to welcome anything but concrete steps that improve the lives of the Syrian people and end the violence," quoted AFP.
An unnamed U.S. official also told AL HAYAT that Washington, "welcomes the signing. But until its application, it remains a signature." The source added that the U.S. is focused on the full implementation of four items in the plan, namely "unrestricted access to all places in Syria ... to stop all acts of violence, to release political prisoners, and withdraw armed elements from civilian areas," the daily wrote.
The United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of its own resolution condemning the violence of the Syria regime against anti-government protestors, now in its ninth month. The non-binding resolution, proposed by Germany, France and Britain, said that the committee "strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the persecution and killing of protesters and human rights defenders," Reuters quoted.
The UN voted 133 in favor of the resolution, while 11 were against the move and 43 members abstained from voting. Syria's allies Russia and China originally vetoed a Security Council resolution back in October. Damascus's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari condemned the resolution as "a political, media and diplomatic war which they're waging against my country, Syria, to create a conducive environment" for its fall. Jaafari blamed the U.S., Israel and their European allies for fomenting a campaign against the Syrian regime.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)|
|Date:||Dec 20, 2011|
|Previous Article:||Note from the publisher.|
|Next Article:||No official decision to reduce number of French troops in south, report says.|