'Syria will sign Arab League initiative to admit monitors'

Damascus diplomat says Assad regime set to sign deal which calls for withdrawal of army from towns, starting dialogue with opposition; China voices support for Russian UN Security Council resolution on Syria.

By REUTERS
December 19, 2011 12:33
3 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)

 
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CAIRO - Syria will sign an Arab peace initiative on Monday to admit foreign monitors, a Syrian diplomat was quoted as saying by Egypt's state news agency, after weeks of Syrian stalling over the plan led to Arab states imposing sanctions.

Qatar, which has been leading efforts at the League to press Syria to agree to the deal, said on Sunday it had information President Bashar Assad would soon sign it.

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The initiative calls for withdrawing the army from towns, freeing thousands of political prisoners, starting dialogue with the opposition and letting monitors into the country.

A senior official at the Cairo-based League said the pan-Arab body had not been officially informed as of Monday morning that Damascus would sign the protocol.

Egypt's MENA news agency said the Syrian diplomat did not say who would sign the deal on Syria's behalf. Cairo airport sources said Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrived in Cairo on Monday.

League chief Nabil Elaraby was due to hold a news conference at about 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), which officials said was to announce "important" news. They did not give details.

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The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and announced sanctions over Assad's refusal so far to sign the deal. Arab ministers are set to meet later this week and could decide to submit their plan to the UN Security Council, making it a potential basis for wider international action.

China voices support for Russian resolution on Syria

China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday it supported a new, beefed-up draft resolution on the violence in Syria presented by Russia to the UN Security Council last week.

The proposal offers a chance for the 15-nation panel to overcome deadlock and deliver its first statement of purpose on Assad's crackdown on nine months of protests which has killed 5,000 people according to the UN and provoked Western and Arab League sanctions on Damascus.

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The council has been split, with Western countries harshly critical of Syria pitted against Russia, China and non-aligned countries that have avoided blaming Assad for the violence.

Long-time Syrian ally and arms supplier Russia took a step closer to the Western position last Thursday when it presented a surprise draft resolution at the United Nations which stepped up its criticism of the bloodshed in Syria.

"If there are discussions at the Security Council on the Syrian situation they should be conducive towards ameliorating the tense state of affairs, pushing political dialogue, bridging differences and maintaining peace and stability in the region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

"China supports the Russian proposal and applauds Russia's hard work at trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, and is willing to maintain contacts with all sides on this," he told a regular news briefing, without elaborating.

China has played a low-key role in the turmoil that has swept the Middle East and North Africa, but it has also moved swiftly to normalize ties with governments which have been overthrown by popular revolts, such as in Libya.

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