Syria rejects Arab League call for power change
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
An anti-Syrian regime protester colors his fingers with the revolutionary flag colors during a protest outside the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. AP PhotoSyria on Monday rejected an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy, calling the initiative a "flagrant interference," state TV quoted an official as saying.
"Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs," the official was quoted as saying.
The Arab League on Sunday asked the UN to support a new plan for resolving the crisis in Syria that sees Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity within two months.
Assad should "delegate powers to the vice president to liaise with a government of national unity," to be formed in two months, according to a statement read by Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani after Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to determine the fate of their Syrian observer mission.
The Syrian official reacting to the Arab League's call said the regional body should instead "assume its responsibilities for stopping the financing and arming of terrorists," the television channel reported.
The source added that the Arab League initiative ran counter to the interests of the Syrian people and would not prevent the country from "advancing its political reforms and bringing security and stability to its people who have shown, during this crisis, their support for national unity as they have rallied around President Assad." Deployed since December 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan, the Syrian observer mission has been widely criticised for its failure to stem the government's bloody crackdown on democracy protesters.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Riyadh had pulled its observers from the mission because the Syrian government had "not respected any of the clauses" in the Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis.
The Arab League agreed, however, to extend the mission and boost the number of observers, according to the final statement.
"We will inform the United Nations of all the resolutions of the Arab League... for its approval," Sheikh Hamad said.
The League's secretary general Nabil al-Arabi, who attended Sunday evening's news conference in Cairo, explained that the request to support the United Nations was designed to "give more weight" to the Arab initiative.
The Arab foreign ministers urged "the Syrian government and all the opposition factions to engage in a serious dialogue under the auspices of the Arab League, within a period of not more than two weeks, to be able to achieve the formation of a unity government bringing together those in power and the opposition." The new government's mission would be to implement the Arab League plan to end the crisis, and to prepare free and fair legislative and presidential elections under both Arab and international supervision.
It would also prepare the election of a constituent assembly within three months and a new constitution which would be put to a referendum.
The ministers tasked the bloc's secretary general with nominating a "special envoy" to Syria in charge of following developments in the country.
After reading out the statement, the Qatari premier said the new plan envisaged the "peaceful departure of the Syrian regime," adding that the plan "resembles the one on Yemen," which resulted in President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreeing to step down.
"If this initiative is not put in place (by Damascus), we will go to the Security Council, where the decisions will be taken," Sheikh Hamad warned.
The Syrian National Council, the country's largest opposition group, has been lobbying in Cairo for UN intervention, and SNC chief Burhan Ghaliun welcomed the League's statement of its intention to seek UN support.
But he insisted that "any transition in Syria should be preceded with the announcement of Assad's departure." Earlier, the SNC called for the Syria file to be transferred to the UN Security Council for referral to the International Criminal Court, so that all Syrian officials implicated in "crimes against humanity" could be prosecuted under international law.
International pressure has been steadily growing on Assad's regime, as more than 5,400 people have been killed since anti-government protests broke out last March, according to UN figures.
But a tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, with Moscow insisting the opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.
A report delivered earlier on Sunday by the chief of the Arab League's monitoring mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, also blamed both sides for the bloodshed, according to an Arab diplomatic source.
The Arab League deployed observers in Syria on December 26, and there are presently about 165 monitors on the ground.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests, said in a statement on Sunday that 976 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown on dissent since the observer mission began.
Qatar had proposed that Arab troops be deployed in Syria, but Damascus rejected that idea outright.