Syria responds 'positively' to Arab plan

2011-12-05 17:14

Damascus - Syria has "responded positively" to an Arab League proposal designed to end months of deadly unrest, paving the way for its signature, foreign ministry spokesperson Jihad Makdesi said on Monday.

Syria was given a Sunday deadline by the Arab League to agree to allow observers to monitor the situation on the ground in Syria, where security forces have brutally suppressed a popular revolt in a crackdown that has seen 4 000 people killed since mid-March, according to UN figures.

At least another 63 people were killed in violence across the country at the weekend, human rights activists said.

"The Syrian government responded positively to the signing of the protocol... based on the Syrian understanding of this co-operation," Makdesi told reporters.

"The road has been cleared for the signing" of the Arab plan, he said, adding that Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had sent a message to this effect late Sunday to the Arab League.

The deployment of an observer mission is part of the League's proposal to end the violence in Syria.

Last month Muallem said Syria would refuse to sign the protocol on the deployment of observers, arguing that the text contained wording that undermined Syrian sovereignty.

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

Travel ban

US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman drove that message home on Sunday.

"We believe that in full light of monitors and media, the security services reporting to Assad and his clique would not be able to operate the way they are operating now," Feltman said in Jordan.

Allowing in monitors would be a "peaceful way of trying to stop this sustained cycle of violence that Assad seems committed to turning Syria into."

Sunday's deadline was announced in Doha by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who also warned against the internationalisation of the Syrian 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," Sheikh Hamad said.

The Arab League in November suspended Syria's membership from the bloc and approved an initial wave of sweeping sanctions against Assad's regime over the lethal crackdown on protesters - the first time the bloc enforces such punitive measures against a member state.

Those measures approved on November 27 included an immediate freeze on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and of Syrian regime assets in Arab countries.

On Saturday in Doha, an Arab League ministerial panel imposed fresh sanctions, banning the travel of 19 Syrian officials 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".