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Under pressure, Syria agrees to Arab League plan to end violence

Under pressure, Syria agrees to Arab League plan to end violence

Violence continued in Syria on Wednesday with at least nine deaths reported even as the Arab League announced that the Syrian government had agreed to a plan to halt the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. By KHADIJA PATEL.

On Wednesday evening, the Arab League announced that the Syrian government had accepted a proposal by the League to halt violence in Syria. The proposal calls for the Syrian government to withdraw security forces from the streets and stop violence by pro-government forces against demonstrators. It also calls on Syria to release political prisoners and begin talks in Cairo with the Syrian opposition within two weeks. Syria will also allow international media and Arab League representatives into the country, lifting restrictions on foreigners and international media entering the country.

Following a meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, the Arab League said in a statement, “The Arab League welcomes the Syrian government’s agreement to the Arab plan,” adding that it “emphasised the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan”.

A Syrian state news report claimed on Monday that Syrian authorities had agreed to terms with an Arab League ministerial committee on a plan to end the violence, but it was not until the announcement by the Arab League on Wednesday that the terms of the agreement were revealed.

The announcement of the agreement marks a turning point in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. For months, seasoned commentators believed that the regime’s ferocious crackdown would keep the lid on dissent, albeit with Al-Assad’s legitimacy badly impaired. In the past month, the prospect of international intervention in Syria seemed increasingly likely.

The United Nations says the number of people killed in the seven-month-old uprising has surpassed 3,000. Throughout the uprising, the Syrian government has defended its actions with the claim that terrorists had killed hundreds of security personnel. Many reports lend some support to Al-Assad’s claims that sections of the Syrian uprising have indeed been armed, and that the country has been receding further towards the brink of a civil war.

Last weekend however, Al-Assad admitted to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that his security forces had indeed made “some mistakes”.  The acceptance of the proposal indicates that Al-Assad has realised the gravity of the uprising against his rule. What remains to be determined is whether the Arab League proposal will actually serve to halt violence.

Ahead of the Arab League’s announcement on Wednesday, Syrian activists claimed at least 34 people were killed in the restive provinces of Homs and Hama.

In response to the announcement, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) said it rejected the Arab League plan; for them only a toppling of the regime would be acceptable. So too, the American and European positions on Syria have remained unchanged.

Al-Assad has so far this year displayed a remarkable ambivalence to the demands of the uprising. After claiming to have implemented reforms early in the uprising, his security forces continued to clamp down violently against anti-government demonstrations. The Arab League however is confident that Al-Assad will indeed follow through on their proposal.

Crucially, the withdrawal of armed forces from Syrian streets may result in further protests against Al-Assad. The president’s commitment to the Arab League proposal will be tested in his ability to reign in his security forces and allow the protests to continue unhindered.

In terms of the Arab League’s proposal, a full military withdrawal from civilian areas must be followed by the release of all political prisoners detained since the anti-government insurrection began. It is estimated that 70,000 people have been detained by the Syrian regime this year. Once the Syrian government has taken these steps, talks with the opposition will then begin within two weeks at the Arab League in Cairo.

Representatives of the Arab League indicated to the media that if the plan was not implemented, the Arab foreign ministers would reconvene to “reconsider further steps”. There is, after all, very little the Arab League can do to ensure Al-Assad sticks to his end of the bargain.

What is clear, however, is that a failure by Al-Assad to see through this proposal will heighten the calls for international intervention. This may well be the last chance for a “peaceful” and “internal” resolution to the Syrian crisis. DM

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