Russian shift makes Syria sign road map

Russian shift makes Syria sign road map

Russian shift makes Syria sign road map

Pro-regime protesters gather during a rally in Damascus as al-Assad government signs the Arab League deal. AP photo

Syria yesterday pledged full cooperation by signing a deal with the Arab League “with the advice of Russia,” saying there was no communication with Turkey due to the Turkish government’s “one-eyed views,” Syrian state-run media reported.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said he welcomed the deal signed at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo after weeks of prevarication and hoped that now the bloc would lift sweeping sanctions imposed on the Damascus regime. 

Arab League Chief Nabil al-Arabi said an advanced team of observers will head to Damascus within 72 hours and the mission will last for a renewable initial period of a month. “Within two or three days, an advanced team of observers headed by Arab League Assistant Secretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal, including security, legal and administrative observers, will be sent,” al-Arabi told reporters.

After the deal was signed, al-Moallem said in a Damascus news conference, “Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we welcome the observers’ mission.” He said the deal would not impinge on Syrian sovereignty after the league agreed to 70 percent of the changes sought by Damascus, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday.

“There are many countries in the world who do not wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria,” he said. The observers “will come and see that they are present.” Al-Moallem said the interior ministry will provide security escorts but insisted the monitors will only be allowed to visit protest hubs and other flashpoints, not sensitive military sites.

Syria will also allow the presence of foreign media provided they report objectively, he said. He said Syria’s Cold War ally Russia, which in October used its Security Council veto to block a resolution that would have threatened “targeted measures” against regime figures, had backed the observer mission. “Russia’s position is clear. They advised Syria to sign the protocol and we implemented that,” he said, however, Damascus’ decision had not been dictated from abroad. The plan, endorsed by Syria on Nov. 2, also calls for a complete halt to violence, the release of detainees and the complete withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.

Al-Moallem also said the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “one-eyed views” that led it to impose sanctions against Syria and embrace groups that do not have Syria’s interests in mind ended the communication between both countries, SANA news agency reported. 

“The economic measures taken by our side came in response to the Turkish sanctions and the whole situation is temporary,” he said. “Over 10 years, we worked hard to establish the best relations with Turkey and they damaged them.” 

Speaking at a joint news conference with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad, who signed the accord, al-Arabi said the mission was part of a broader Arab peace plan. “The protocol is nothing but an Arab mechanism to go to Syria and move freely in various areas to confirm the implementation of the Arab plan to which the Syrian government had previously agreed.”

France, which has spearheaded international pressure on the Damascus regime to end its deadly crackdown, said observers could not be in place quickly enough. “We regret there have been 30 more deaths in the past two days. It’s urgent,” a foreign ministry spokesman in Paris said. There were more reports of bloodshed yesterday.

Activists said at least six civilians were killed by security forces across the country and many were wounded, including a child in the restive Damascus neighborhood of Midan.

Activists also said three soldiers were killed in a clash between troops and army defectors in the northern town of Maaret al-Numan, the Associated Press reported. Yesterday’s death toll throughout Syria was 14, activists said. Meanwhile, members of the opposition Syrian National Council meeting in Tunis dismissed Damascus’ acceptance of the Arab League plan as “a maneuver.” “The Syrian regime is maneuvering to try to prevent the Syrian file being submitted to the U.N. Security Council,” said SNC head Burhan Ghalioun. “This is just a ploy. They have no intention of implementing any initiative.” 
However, Iran yesterday said it backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to start implementing an Arab League plan to quell the violence in his country by finally letting in observers.
The Syrian opposition called for a military intervention to protect civilians from al-Assad’s security forces. “We need to use force – even in a limited way – or for Arab defense forces to respond ... But we will not leave our destiny in the hands of others, even the United Nations,” Ghalioun said.