Iraq: Syria agrees to Arab monitoring plan

Diplomats say range of sanctions being considered, France calls for humanitarian zone to protect civilians.

Arab League 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Arab League 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Syria has accepted an Arab League plan to send monitors to observe an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and will sign a protocol to that effect, Iraq's foreign minister said on Thursday.
Syria's acceptance of a proposal it has previously sought to amend appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to fend off sanctions being discussed by Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.
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"Syria has agreed fully to the protocol," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters in Cairo.
There was no immediate confirmation from Syria and Arab League officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Syria is not represented at the Arab League meeting because its membership was suspended for failing to implement a League plan to end a crackdown on protests against Assad.
Zebari said Arab ministers had agreed that all violence must end in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed in eight months of unrest.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe gave more details of his proposal for a "secured zone to protect civilians" in Syria and said he would propose it to the Arab ministers in Cairo.
He said international monitors should be sent to protect civilians, with or without Assad's permission. He insisted the proposal fell short of a military intervention, but acknowledged that humanitarian convoys would need protection.
"There are two possible ways: that the international community, Arab League and the United Nations can get the regime to allow these humanitarian corridors," he told French radio. "But if that isn't the case we'd have to look at other solutions ... with international observers."
The League, which for decades has spurned acting against a member state, has threatened Syria with sanctions for ignoring the deal it had signed up to, but then sought to amend.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby met ministers from Qatar, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Oman, who form a committee following the Syria issue, before a full ministerial session.
An Arab diplomat at that meeting said the committee had not yet reached conclusive recommendations for the full session.
Considering Outside Intervention
France's idea for international intervention moves away from a previously shared determination among world powers to avoid any direct entanglement in a core Middle Eastern country.
Syria has turned tanks and troops on civilian protesters, as well as on armed insurgents challenging Assad's 11-year rule.
A senior Arab diplomat at the League said earlier that the pan-Arab body was considering what kind of sanctions to impose.
"The position of the Arab states is almost unified. We all agree ... that the situation does not lead to civil war and that no foreign intervention takes place," he said.
The Nov. 12 agreement to suspend Syria was backed by 18 of the League's 22 members. Lebanon, where Syria for many years had a military presence, and Yemen, battling its own uprising, opposed it. Iraq, whose Shi'ite-led government is wary of offending Syria's main ally Iran, abstained.
Arab ministers met in a Cairo suburb instead of the League's headquarters in Tahrir Square, occupied by protesters after days of clashes with police in nearby streets.
Khaled al-Habasi, an adviser to Elaraby, said the League was also "working on uniting the Syrian opposition on a vision regarding the future of Syria during the transitional period".
Earlier this month, the League asked Syrian opposition groups to submit their ideas for a transition of power ahead of a planned bigger conference on Syria's future.
An Arab government representative at the League said ideas for sanctions included travel bans on Syrian officials, freezing bank transfers or funds in Arab states related to Assad's government and stopping Arab projects in Syria.
After an uprising erupted in Libya, the League suspended Tripoli and also called for a no-fly zone that paved the way for a UN Security Council resolution and NATO air strikes that helped rebels defeat and eventually kill Muammar Gaddafi.
Arabs have shown no appetite so far for following a similar route with Syria, which adjoins Israel and lies on the fault lines of several interlocking conflicts in the Middle East.
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