Syria’s government agreed Monday to let foreigners monitor its compliance with an Arab League peace agreement.
But opposition figures were skeptical the government had any intention of enacting the reforms they have demanded throughout their nine-month revolt.
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The main opposition to President Bashar Assad dismissed the government’s apparent acquiescence as a further stalling tactic. Syria’s foreign minister said he had wrung concessions from the Arab League, noting that the monitors would initially have access for just a month.
Assad’s key ally, Iran, said the agreement – accepted at Russia’s urging – was “acceptable,” if not ideal.
Also Monday, the UN General Assembly condemned Syria for its crackdown in a vote that highlighted Damascus’ growing isolation at the world body. The 193-nation body’s vote came a month after the assembly’s human rights committee approved the draft resolution with strong Western and Arab backing.
In Monday’s vote on the same resolution, which was drafted by Britain, France and Germany, 133 countries voted in favor, 11 against and 43 abstained. The resolution says 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.”
As the violence continued on Monday, with several people reported killed, the Arab League said it was not ready to lift economic sanctions it had imposed so as to cut short Syrian prevarication. The league said, however, that an advance party would reach Damascus this week to prepare a mission to monitor compliance with an agreement that calls for the government to withdraw troops from cities where protests have been held, free political prisoners and open a dialogue with regime opponents.
Insisting that Syria had not been forced into submission, Foreign Minister Walid al- Moualem said 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 told a news conference in Damascus.
The exiled leader of the opposition Syrian National Council lambasted the deal.
“Syria’s signature of the Arab League agreement is a lie aimed at winning time and preventing the league from resorting to the United Nations,” Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the council, told reporters in Tunisia.
Syria broadly agreed last month to the Arab League initiative to defuse a violent confrontation that has left more than 5,000 people dead. Damascus reports losing over 1,100 of its security forces to foreign-backed “armed terrorist gangs.”
After Syria balked at signing the protocol on monitors last month, Arab foreign ministers voted to impose sanctions on Damascus and threatened last week to take their proposal to the UN Security Council – a move that could expose Damascus to wider international action.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said sanctions had not been lifted and that an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting planned later this week to discuss action against Damascus had been “postponed indefinitely.” Moualem told journalists that Syria had not requested an end to the sanctions.
“If they think the sanctions will affect Syria’s resistance, then they are dreaming and we won’t beg anyone,” he said, adding that Damascus had agreed to sign the deal on the advice of its long-time ally Russia.
Moscow lauded the deal as a chance to bring stability to Syria.
“We believe that the document signed in Cairo gives an opportunity to... provide safety for the Syrian people and stabilize the situation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to the Interfax news agency.
Syria said it would allow observers to enter flashpoint provinces under its protection, but that the deal required Syria and the Arab League to agree on responses to any proposals by the monitors.
“The Arab League delegation’s reports will be sent to me and the league’s secretary-general at the same time, and he and I will discuss them before any other action is taken,” the foreign minister said. “That is the text after Syria’s modifications.”
Areas such as southern Deraa, central Homs and northern Idlib have become centers of armed rebellion, with dozens of protesters, rebels and security forces killed each week.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were killed on Monday by security forces’ fire in the Deraa province and that three soldiers died in fighting with armed rebels in the Idlib province.
Late Monday, the group said “dozens” of troops had been shot dead by their comrades while trying to flee their base and defect. Citing witnesses who survived the attack, the group said Syrian forces attacked the defectors with machinegun fire. One of the survivors said some 60 to 70 deserters were killed Syria’s state news agency said security forces in Idlib killed at least one and wounded several other “terrorists.”