Syria accepts Arab League call to end crackdown
Syria accepted an Arab League proposal calling for it to withdraw armoured vehicles from the streets and stop violence against protesters in a bid to end the country's seven-month-old political crisis that has led to the deaths of some 3,000 people.
The agreement was announced by Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, who urged Damascus to follow through with action on the ground. Syria has continued its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters despite international condemnation and previous promises of reform.
Syria agreed to withdraw all tanks and armoured vehicles from the streets, stop violence against protesters, release all political prisoners arrested during the uprising and begin a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, according to the proposal.
Syria also agreed to allow journalists, rights groups and Arab League representatives to monitor the situation in the country. All have been banned from entering by one of the Arab world's most repressive regimes.
"We are happy to have reached the agreement and we'll be happier if it is carried out," bin Jassim said. "Now it is important for the Syrian side to carry out this agreement because it is what will allow the situation to quiet down and the crisis to be resolved."
"We hope that there will be serious follow-through, whether regarding violence and killing or regarding prisoners," he said.
Arab nations have been eager to avoid a repeat of the civil war in Libya that led to the capture and brutal treatment of Moammar Gadhafi before he was killed. In the proposal, the Arab League said it sought to prevent foreign intervention in Syria — a marked difference from Libya in which an Arab League decision helped pave the way for a NATO bombing campaign.
It remains unclear if the agreement will make a difference on the ground. The agreement did not list consequences should Syria continue its crackdown.
Nor did the proposal state where the dialogue between authorities and the opposition is to take place. Arab diplomats involved in the process said they had suggested Cairo while Syrian insisted that all dialogue take place in the capital Damascus.
Syria's opposition has refused to enter into any dialogue as long as President Bashar Assad remains in power.
The proposal was presented by a council of Arab foreign ministers. Notably, Syrian Foreign Minster Walid al-Moallem did not attend the meeting. Instead, Syria's ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League, Youssef Ahmed, delivered Syria's response.
The UN says some 3,000 people have been killed since the revolt began in March.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he supported the agreement.
"I hope that this agreement will be implemented without delay," he told reporters in Tripoli, Libya, but noting that Assad has not kept past promises.
The plan also provides for a dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition representatives in Cairo. However the opposition has refused to enter into any dialogue as long as Assad remains in power.
The proposal is the latest in a string of international efforts to ease the crisis, which has led to international condemnation of the Syrian regime. European Union and U.S. sanctions are chipping away at Syria's ailing economy and many world leaders have called on Assad to step down.
20 reported killed in attacks
Throughout the crisis, Syria has remained defiant. In recent days, it has mined its border with Lebanon, apparently to prevent opposition figures from fleeing, and Assad has vowed that the Middle East will burn if foreign powers intervene.
The violence continued Wednesday, as 11 factory workers were slain by gunmen in the central Syrian village of Houla, according to the Syrian opposition's two main activist groups.
The onslaught apparently started late Tuesday, when gunmen attacked a bus carrying workers in nearby Homs, killing nine passengers, according to Majd Amer, an activist in the city.
It was not clear who was behind the attacks.