‘Syria is still open to Arab observers plan’

‘Syria is still open to Arab observers plan’

Syria said yesterday it is still negotiating with the Arab League over the bloc’s request to send observers into the country, as tightening sanctions by Arab and other nations fail to halt the eight-month crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Arab leaders have given Syria a new deadline of yesterday to respond to the League’s peace plan, which calls for the admission of observers to ensure compliance with government cease-fire. They also held out the threat of pushing for U.N. involvement if Syria balks. Faced with a new deadline, Syria signaled it still might be willing to comply with the Arab League’s plan, saying its objections were simply a matter of details. “Messages are being exchanged between Syria and the Arab League to reach a certain vision that would facilitate the mission of observers in Syria while preserving Syrian interests and sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters in Damascus.

Syria’s failure to meet a Nov. 25 deadline to allow in observers drew Arab League sanctions, including a ban on dealings with the country’s central bank. Together with sanctions from the United States, the European Union and Turkey, the Arab League’s penalties are expected to deal significant damage to Syria’s economy and may undercut the regime’s authority.

Qatar’s prime minister said Dec. 3 during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Gulf country’s capital, Doha, that he expected Syrian envoys to sign an agreement yesterday. Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani said failure to reach an agreement may lead to U.N. involvement in the Syrian crisis, although he did not spell out what that meant.

On the ground, at least a dozen Syrian secret police have defected from an intelligence compound in a restive province near Turkey, the first major defection reported within the security apparatus leading the crackdown on protesters, activists said yesterday. Also, a new violence killed at least six people on yesterday, including a female university professor and a father and his three children in central Syria, opposition activists said. On Dec. 3, at least 23 people were reported killed across the country pushing the death toll close to 4,600, an activist group said.

Compiled from AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.