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News, November 2011
Arab League Rejects Syrian Amendments to Peace Plan, as 17 Protesters Killed
Arab League rebuffs Syrian bid to amend monitor plan
By KHALED YACOUB OWEIS | REUTERS
Arab News, Nov 20, 2011 16:22
The Arab League said on Sunday it had rebuffed a request by Damascus to amend plans for a 500-strong monitoring mission to Syria, after President Bashar Assad disregarded a deadline to halt violent repression of protesters.
Two rocket-propelled grenades hit a major ruling party building in Damascus on Sunday, residents said, the first attack by insurgents — mainly army defectors — reported inside the Syrian capital since street demonstrations against 41 years of rule by the Assad family broke out in March.
Assad said he had no choice but to pursue his crackdown on unrest because his foes were armed. “The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue. Syria will not bow down,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby rejected Syria’s approach about altering a plan for the fact-finding mission — which would include military personnel and human rights experts — in a letter to Syria’s foreign minister.
“The additions requested by the Syrian counterpart affect the heart of the protocol and fundamentally change the nature of the mission,” said the letter, released by the Arab League.
The Cairo-based League had given Damascus three days from a meeting on Nov. 16 to abide by a deal to withdraw military forces from restive cities, start talks between the government and opposition and pave the way for an observer team.
It was not immediately clear what action the Arab League would take after the deadline passed unheeded by Damascus. The pan-Arab body had threatened sanctions for non-compliance, and it suspended Syria’s membership in a surprise move last week.
No new talks in sight
“Although the time frame has ended, there have been no meetings or calls for meetings except at the level of delegations (to the League),” a representative of one Arab state at the League told Reuters.
In a statement, the League said it remained committed to a peaceful, Arab-engineered solution to the Syrian upheaval, touched off by other Arab popular revolts that have overthrown the autocratic leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya this year.
Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups which they say have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police. By a United Nations account, some 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the unrest.
Assad, speaking after his forces killed 17 more protesters on Saturday, signalled no retreat from his iron-fist policy.
“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighboring countries, prevent sabotage and enforce law and order,” he said in video footage on the Sunday Times website.
Assad said there would be elections in February or March when Syrians would vote for a parliament to create a new constitution and that would include provision for a presidential ballot.
The Syrian Free Army, comprising army defectors and based in neighboring Turkey, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Baath Party building in Damascus.
“Security police blocked off the square where the Baath’s Damascus branch is located. But I saw smoke rising from the building and fire trucks around it,” said a witness who declined to be named.
“The attack was just before dawn and the building was mostly empty. It seems to have been intended as a message to the regime,” he said.
The attack could not be independently confirmed. The authorities have barred most independent journalists from entering the country during the revolt.
It was the second hit on a high profile target in a week, underscoring a growing opposition challenge to Assad — who blames “armed terrorist acts” for the unrest — from a nascent insurgency alongside mostly peaceful protests that have persisted despite the intensifying crackdown.
The Syrian Free Army said the grenade attack was a response to the refusal of Damascus to release tens of thousands of political prisoners and return troops to barracks, as called for by the plan agreed between the Arab League and Damascus.
No-fly, buffer zones?
Non-Arab Turkey, once an ally of Assad, is also taking an increasingly tough attitude to Damascus.
Turkish newspapers said on Saturday Ankara had contingency plans to create no-fly or buffer zones to protect civilians in neighboring Syria if the bloodshed worsens.
“It’s almost certain that Bashar Assad’s regime is going down, all the assessments are made based on this assumption. Foreign Ministry sources say that the sooner the regime goes down, the better for Turkey,” one Turkish paper reported.
Activists in the central city of Homs said the body of Farzat Jarban, an activist who had been filming and broadcasting pro-democracy rallies there, was found dumped near a private hospital on Saturday with two bullet wounds.
“Security police are no longer just shooting protesters, they are targeting activists when they least suspect it, such as when they take their children to school. Sometimes they don’t shoot to kill but to neutralize,” said a doctor from Homs who has fled to Jordan.
“I treated an activist recently ... They shot him in the thigh and by the time his family got him to me gangrene had spread and his leg needed to be amputated,” he said.
Tanks and troops deployed in Homs after large anti-Assad protests six months ago. The authorities say they have since arrested tens of “terrorists” in the city who have been killing civilians and planting bombs in public places.
Dissident colonel Riad Al-Asaad, organizing defectors in Syria from his new base in southern Turkey, denied government allegations that adjacent states were allowing arms smuggling into Syria. “Not a single bullet” had been smuggled from abroad, he told Al Jazeera television.
Weapons were brought by defectors, obtained in raids on the regular army or bought from arms dealers inside Syria, he said.
Asaad said no foreign military intervention was needed other than providing a no-fly zone and weapons supplies, and that more deserters would swell his Free Syrian Army’s ranks if there were protected zones to which they could flee.
“Soldiers and officers in the army are waiting for the right opportunity,” he told Al Jazeera.
Arab League rejects Syrian peace plan amendments
By News Wires (text)
The Arab League has rejected a request by Damascus to amend plans to send a monitoring mission to Syria, where troops and tanks have been used to repress protests against President Bashar al-Assad, Egypt's state news agency reported on Sunday.
It said the League rebuffed Syria's approach in a letter from its Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to Syria's foreign minister. The League wants to send a 500-strong mission of monitors to Syria to assess the situation there.
"The additions requested by the Syrian counterpart affect the heart of the protocol and fundamentally change the nature of the mission," the letter said, MENA reported, adding that the pan-Arab body rejected the demand.
The League had given Damascus three days from a meeting on Nov. 16 to abide by a deal to withdraw military forces from restive cities and start talks between the government and opposition. The plan included sending an observer team to Syria.
The Arab League said in its statement that it was committed to an Arab solution for the Syrian violence and was working to end the crackdown on civilians in Syria.
The Arab League set the Saturday deadline for Syria to comply with a peace plan, entailing a military pullout from around cities and towns, and threatened sanctions if Assad failed to halt the violence.
It was not immediately what action the League would take after the deadline was disregarded.
"Although the time frame has ended, there have been no meetings or calls for meetings except at the level of delegations (to the League)," a representative of one Arab state at the League told Reuters.
Blasts in Damascus as Assad vows crackdown
By News Wires (text)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defiantly vowed to fight and die if needed as an Arab League deadline for his government to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters expired with 17 more people killed.
Among the dead from Saturday were four intelligence agents killed by gunmen who raked their car with gunfire, and two mutinous soldiers who died in clashes with regular troops in the central town of Shayzar, rights campaigners said.
The latest bloodletting added to the more than 3,500 killed since mid-March, and came just hours before the passing of Saturday's midnight (2200 GMT) deadline from the Arab League for Assad to end the crackdown or face sanctions.
With rebel troops inflicting mounting losses on the regular army, Turkey and the United States both raised the spectre of civil war and Russia called for restraint.
But in an interview with London's Sunday Times, conducted before the Arab League deadline lapsed, Assad said he was "definitely" prepared to fight and die for Syria if faced with foreign intervention.
"This goes without saying and is an absolute," he said.
The president said he felt sorrow for each drop of Syrian blood spilt but insisted Damascus must go after armed rebel gangs and enforce law and order.
"The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue," he said. "I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it."
Assad accused the Arab League of creating a pretext for Western military intervention, which he said would trigger an "earthquake" across the Middle East.
But after talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said: "It is indispensable to increase international pressure.
"We have tabled a resolution at the United Nations. We hope it will find as wide support as possible."
Russia has staunchly resisted any attempt to invoke international involvement in the crisis, fearing it could clear the way for a Libya-style military campaign under a UN mandate.
"We are calling for restraint and caution. This is our position," Putin said a day after after his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had likened the situation in Syria to a civil war.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu both warned that the risk of civil war was real, and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he felt Assad had reached "a point of no return" with a change of regime possible within months.
Clinton told NBC news: "I think there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition that is, if not directed by, certainly influenced by defectors from the army."
The Arab League said it was examining a Syrian request to make changes to a proposal to send 500 observers to Damascus to help implement a peace deal agreed earlier this month.
With the peace deal in tatters, the Arab League has already suspended Syria from the 22-member bloc and saw its deadline expire on Saturday with no compliance from Assad's security forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one civilian was killed in security force fire on Sunday in Idlib province in the northwest.
This came after the Britain-based watchdog had on Saturday reported seven civilians killed in the Idlib town of Kfar Kharim, close to the Turkish border.
The Observatory also quoted a mutinous officer as saying that two army deserters "were killed in clashes with regular troops in Qusayr" in the restive central province of Homs.
Also in central Syria on Saturday, "deserters raked with gunfire a car carrying four members of the air force intelligence near the village of Al-Mukhtara on the Salmiyeh-Homs road, killing everyone on board", the Observatory said.
The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation said it would convene an emergency meeting next Saturday at its Saudi headquarters to urge Syria to "end the bloodshed".
Date created : 20/11/2011
17 Dead in Syria as Arab Deadline Looms
Ma'an, 19/11/2011 23:09
(AFP/File Bulent Kilic) DAMASCUS (AFP) --
At least 17 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, activists
said, as an Arab League deadline for Damascus to stop its lethal
crackdown on dissent was set to expire.
Thousands of Syrians rally in support of Assad
DAMASCUS, Nov. 18, 2011 (Xinhua) --
Thousands of Syrians thronged a main Syrian square on Friday to express support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to express discontent with the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria's membership.
After Friday's noon prayers, thousands went out of the Umayyad Mosque in the old city of Damascus on a rally titled "The Mosques Are Ours." The participants crossed al-Hamidiyeh market toward Saba' Bahrat Square chanting slogans against foreign interference in Syria's internal affairs.
A convoy of cars also set off from al-Hassan Mosque in al-Midan neighborhood on a rally meant to show solidarity with the process of reforms announced by President Bashar al-Assad.
In the coastal city of Latakia, Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said thousands of citizens voluntarily gathered near Haroun roundabout condemning the AL decision against Syria.
In addition to the pro-regime rallies, opposition protests also erupted in northern and central Syria, according to Sham FM radio.
Friday's rallies came amid confirmation by Secretary General of the Arab League (AL), Nabil al-Arabi, that he had received a letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem that included amendments to the draft protocol regarding the legal status and the duties of the AL mission of observers to be sent soon to Syria.
Al-Arabi's announcement came in a statement Friday in which he said that the proposed amendments are now under study.
Also Friday, Imams and preachers at some mosques in Syria expressed their rejection and condemnation of the Arab League's halt of Syria's membership, saying the decision is linked to foreign agendas seeking for interference in the Syrian internal affairs, according to SANA.
Delivering sermons at the Friday prayers, the imams described the decision as "a violation of the principles of the joint Arab action and of the Arab League Charter regarding the non- interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries and the respect of national sovereignty."
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