Syria Agrees to Arab League Plan to Avoid UN Action

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem. Photographer: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

Syria agreed to an Arab League proposal that will allow monitors into the country as regional states seek to end the crackdown on protesters that has claimed at least 5,000 lives.

The signing of the accord in Cairo was announced today on Syrian state television. The agreement came after the Arab League amended the original text following a request from Syria, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said in a televised news conference from Damascus.

“If our amendments were not included, we wouldn’t have signed,” Muallem said. “The signing of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers.”

The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27, increasing economic and political pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the suppression of protests that began in mid-March. The violence risks moving the nation closer to civil war as military personnel defect and take up arms against the government. Popular movements have toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year, and forced Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to cede power.

Syrian forces killed 30 people across the country today, Al Jazeera television reported.

Muallem said the Arab League agreed to 70 percent of Syria’s amendments, without elaborating on them. The monitors will verify compliance with measures to halt the violence.

Protect Civilians

Speaking in a televised news conference in Tunisia, where opposition groups have been meeting, Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council, said Assad’s government is seeking to buy time by signing the Arab League proposal. The council will talk to the United Nations and other groups about intervention by Arab forces to protect civilians, he said.

The protocol agreed upon today is valid for one month and is renewable for another, Muallem said.

“This illustrates that the regime recognized they can’t completely turn their nose up at the Arab League and they actually do have some leverage over them,” said Chris Phillips, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that if and when they do allow the observers in that they will give them the full, unrestricted access that they demand.”

Arab League Meeting

The Arab League postponed a meeting of foreign ministers who were scheduled to gather in Cairo on Dec. 21 to discuss submitting a proposal on Syria to the UN Security Council, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said, citing the league’s secretary-general, Nabil el-Arabi.

“We want to end the current situation as fast as possible,” Muallem said. “We want to exit from this crisis by building a safe, modern Syria that is an example of democracy and pluralism.”

Today’s agreement doesn’t mean an immediate suspension of Arab sanctions against Syria, MENA reported, citing el-Arabi.

Efforts by the U.S. and Europe, which have also imposed sanctions on Syria, to get a condemnation of Assad’s crackdown at the Security Council have been blocked by Russia and China. Coordination with Russia is “daily,” Muallem said, adding there was no change in Russia’s stance toward Syria.

Assad has blamed the unrest on foreign provocateurs, while his forces have used tanks, armored vehicles and artillery to crush the uprising.

The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising. New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Syrian military and intelligence officials last week of giving both “direct and standing orders to use lethal force.”

Assad’s government is “falling apart” and losing grip as the uprising against his rule entered its 10th month, the SNC’s Ghalioun said. “It won’t be long before a new Syria is born.”

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