Arabs agree on Syria plan; Saudis pull monitors

Questions remain over plan's implementation; US Senators introduce sanctions bill in response to Assad regime "atrocities."

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
January 22, 2012 23:47
Assad meets with Arab League ministerial team

Assad meets with Arab League ministerial team 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Sana Sana)

 
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Arab foreign minister agreed on Sunday to a new political roadmap for Syria that would see President Bashar Assad delegating power to a deputy and setting up a unity government as a prelude to early parliamentary and presidential elections.

Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo that the Arab League would take its initiative to the UN Security Council and ask for its endorsement.

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The meeting followed an announcement by Saudi Arabia that it was withdrawing its observers from the country after an Arab monitoring mission failed to stem 10 months of bloodshed.

Details of the Arab plan were not immediately available Sunday night. Still, a draft agreement leaked during the negotiations called for an independent Syrian commission of inquiry created to look into violations committed during the country's 10-month uprising.

Details remained unclear over how the League might enforce the measures.

"My country will withdraw its monitors because the Syrian government did not execute any of the elements of the Arab resolution plan," Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal told Arab foreign ministers at a closed door meeting in Cairo.



"We are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States," he said, calling for "all possible pressure" to push Syria to adhere to the Arab peace plan.

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Saudi Arabia, the region's political and economic powerhouse, exerts enormous influence over other Gulf countries which tend to fall in line with its policies.

Also Sunday, US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced they would be introducing the Syrian Human Rights Accountability Act to impose sanctions against the Assad regime.

The bill, set to be introduced this coming week, would require US President Barack Obama to identify people in the Syrian government who have violated the human rights of pro-democracy demonstrators, members of the opposition or organizations calling for reform in the country.

The bill would also prohibit the sale of technology or weapons to Syria that could be used for censorship or human rights abuses in the country.

The announcement came just days after the Obama administration announced it would close the US embassy in Damascus due to a rapid deterioration of the security situation in Syria.

Schumer said the bill would ensure "no companies that do business with the United States facilitate these atrocities." He and Gillibrand, both Democrats, are the two US senators from New York State.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is providing significant quantities of weapons, technology and assistance to Assad.

"That's expected from the Iranian regime. What is unconscionable are the international companies from Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan and elsewhere that are intentionally or unwittingly selling tools of oppression to Damascus," he told The Jerusalem Post in an e-mail.

"These tools include sophisticated surveillance technologies as well as police and military weaponry. This new legislation targets those companies which should be sanctioned by the US government unless they immediately take steps to ensure that their products are not aiding and abetting this slaughter.
Sellers should beware."

Arab diplomatic sources have said in recent weeks that Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman are increasingly reluctant to step up pressure on Syria when they are facing protests at home.

Qatar, which has led calls for escalation against Syria, said it was time to review the whole mission and consider dispatching Arab peacekeeping troops to quell the violence that United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 people.

"The reality says that the bloodshed has not stopped and the killing machine is still working and violence is spread everywhere," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said in a statement.

"What is needed now is a full review of the work of this mission and a look into what results it achieved and if those results are convincing enough to continue or if the realities call for other options and one other option is.... to send Arab peacekeeping forces."

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals of Syria and its ally Iran, are impatient for decisive action against Assad but military action against Assad would need unanimous backing and several states prefer a negotiated solution, League sources say.

The UN Security Council is also split on how to address the crisis, with Western powers demanding tougher sanctions and a weapons embargo, and Assad's ally Russia preferring to leave the Arabs to negotiate a peaceful outcome.

Suggestions to send in UN experts to support the Arab observers made little headway at the last meeting earlier this month and Damascus has said it would accept an extension of the observer mission but not an expansion in its scope.

The lack of a unified Arab response will frustrate Syria's opposition, which has demanded Arab countries clearly state Assad's failure to adhere to its peace plan, withdraw monitors and hand the file to the Security Council.

Critics say the monitoring mission is handing Assad more time to kill opponents of his rule. But Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia told Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby they would oppose referring the matter to the UN, a League source said on Sunday.

"The three states support solving the Syrian crisis inside the Arab League," the source said.

Two Syrian army officers, an infantryman, a rebel and two civilians died in clashes on Sunday in Talfita, a village in the Damascus region on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Intermittent fighting continued in the town of Douma, nine miles (14 km) northwest of the capital, which had been encircled by the military, said the UK-based rights group.

An opposition activist and a rebel fighter in Douma said the fighting had eased and the rebels held about two thirds of its main streets.

Masked fighters had set up checkpoints and a funeral procession for five civilians killed on Saturday was passing through the town, they said.

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