UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs arrives at summit.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Damascus said on Wednesday it would reject any initiatives made at an Arab League summit relating to Syria, which is facing a year-long revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule, according to the Lebanese TV channel al-Manar.
"Syria will not deal with any initiatives issued by the Arab League on the Syria situation that is issued at the Baghdad summit," a Syrian official was cited as saying by al-Manar, a news channel that belongs to the political and militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government.
Arab foreign ministers at the Baghdad summit called for a UN-backed peace plan for Syria to be put into action after President Bashar Assad agreed to the proposal that urges an end to violence but does not demand the Syrian leader step down.
Arab leaders were expected to endorse the six-point proposal from UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, which seeks a ceasefire and political dialogue in what Iraq called a "last chance" for Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Assad on Wednesday to quickly implement the plan, which calls for the army to return to its barracks.
Speaking in Kuwait, Ban said: "I strongly urge President Assad to put these commitments into immediate effect. There is not time to waste."
Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. But it does not hinge on Assad leaving office.
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Arab states appeared to soften their initial proposal demanding that Assad step down after Russia and China vetoed UN draft resolutions condemning him.
"Syria's accepting the plan is a very important step," Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters in Baghdad.
"This is the last chance for Syria and it must be implemented on the ground," he said.
The Annan proposal is the latest attempt to broker an end to more than a year of violence in Syria after Assad sent troops into cities to try to crush rebels seeking to end his 12-year rule.
Zebari said the League would discuss Annan's plan but would not accept any foreign intervention in Syria.
The Arab League suspended Syria last year and has in the past called on Assad to step aside to allow talks. But members are split over how to handle increasing violence that threatens to inflame the region's complex ethnic and sectarian mix.
Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the push to isolate Syria, but other non-Gulf Arab states such as Algeria, Egypt and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government urge more caution, fearing that toppling Assad could spark sectarian violence.
But Baghdad has suggested the Annan plan as the best way to reach common ground for league members.
"The priority is to end the violence in Syria," said United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Qarqash in Baghdad. "We support Annan's proposal."
Iraq is holding its first Arab League summit in two decades and it will be the first such meeting hosted by a Shi'ite Arab leader, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In the build-up to the summit, Baghdad courted Sunni Arab Gulf countries who have been wary of the rise of Iraq's Shi'ite majority and closer ties with Iran since the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
Syrian government forces continued heavy weapons fire and their seige against opposition strongholds on Wednesday with military action and shelling reported from the southern province of Deraa to the northern Hama region.
The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's upheaval though Syrian authorities blame foreign-backed terrorists for the violence and say 3,000 troops and police have been killed.
"We hope the Syrian brothers will respond to the Arab and international resolutions. We hope they will respond to the voice of reason and to stop the bloodshed," said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.
"The situation now makes a ceasefire necessary."
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