[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Arabs await Syrian reply to plan to end unrest

[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Arabs await Syrian reply to plan to end unrest

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2011 18:43:57 +0100

Arabs await Syrian reply to plan to end unrest

Wed Nov 2, 2011 3:14pm GMT

By Tamim Elyan and Ayman Samir

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers will review on Wednesday Syria's
response to their initiative aimed at ending seven months of violence
triggered by an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Syria said on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with League
representatives but gave no details. Syrian state media said an official
announcement would come at the League meeting.

Diplomats have said proposals include the immediate release of prisoners,
the withdrawal of security forces from the streets and the government
starting talks with the opposition.

An Arab source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Syria broadly
agreed to the initiative, but wanted to discuss the location for holding a
national dialogue and the mechanism for the League to monitor the situation.

"Syria is determined to reach an agreement on the place of the national
dialogue; it won't be a hurdle in reaching an agreement today," the source
told Reuters.

Sources at the Cairo-based Arab League said Syria had made no formal reply.
"The Syrian position is a little vague. They want to surprise everyone with
their response at the meeting," the representative of one Arab state said.

Assad has deployed his army and security forces to crush protests inspired
by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. He has said they are battling
Islamist militants and armed gangs.

The United Nations says 3,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.

A Gulf state League delegate said disagreement remained over the monitoring
mechanism, the venue for a dialogue -- whether Cairo or Damascus -- and the
participation of foreign-based Syrian dissidents.

Syrian newspaper Al Watan carried a similar report.

Assad has said he wants dialogue. His opponents say the killing must stop
first. Analysts question whether the Syrian leader would be ready to halt
military action against protesters and armed opponents of his 11-year rule.

Activists said on Wednesday at least 11 people were killed by security
forces in and around Homs in central Syria.

"The regime is trying to buy time. Its calls for reform and dialogue are
false and deceiving. The (Syrian) National Council reaffirms its demands
that it had submitted to the Arab League," the opposition council said in a

The council said it wanted the League to take steps that included suspending
Syria from the pan-Arab body and ensuring international protection for
civilians, with Arab backing.

Arabs took such measures during an uprising in Libya against the rule of
Muammar Gaddafi, now ousted and killed. The League's backing for a no-fly
zone over Libya led to a U.N. Security Council resolution that, in turn,
prompted a NATO air campaign.

But the Arab League has stopped short of suspending Syria. Arab diplomats,
cited by the Egypt's official news agency, said that would not happen at
Wednesday's meeting.

"The meeting will focus on discussing the Syrian response to the Arab
roadmap which the Arab ministerial committee presented (in Qatar)," it said,
referring to talks with Syrian officials.

Citing the diplomats, it said it was "not possible under any circumstances
to repeat the Libyan model in Syria." NATO has also ruled out any such
military intervention in Syria.


Hilal Khashan, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut,
said Assad wanted to give the "impression" he was cooperating with the

"The implication would be that they (the Syrian authorities) must return
their tanks to the barracks, which they would see as the end of their
regime. Assad believes he can still end this through a military solution,"
Khashan said.

The United States, which has imposed sanctions on Syria's oil industry and
key state businesses in response to Assad's crackdown, said that if Syria
accepted and implemented the League's proposals it would be "very welcome."

But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week: "We have
had a lot of promises of reform and only violence in terms of the action
that we have seen from the Assad regime."

Syrian activists said security forces shot dead at least 11 villagers they
had stopped at a roadblock near Homs.

A YouTube video distributed by anti-Assad activists purportedly showed
several bodies, gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs. Another
five were killed in Homs. All 11 were Sunnis, who form the majority of
Syria's population.

Their killing follows reports by an activist in Homs, and on social network
pages of Assad supporters, that nine members of the president's minority
Alawite sect had been dragged from a bus and killed by gunmen near Homs on

Syrian state television showed tens of thousands of people rallying in
Syria's eastern city of Raqqa, in the latest in a series of state-organised
rallies designed to show Assad enjoys popular support nationwide. Similar
demonstrations have taken place in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia and Deir

With tight Syrian media restrictions in place, it is hard to verify accounts
of violence or gauge the real levels of popular support for Assad and those
demanding his removal.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Erika Solomon in Beirut and
Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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