Damascus is set to give its agreement later on Monday to an observer mission to monitor implementation of a deal to end nine months of bloodshed, an Arab diplomat told AFP.
“The Syrian government is going to sign the protocol this afternoon,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad would ink the document in Cairo.
On the ground, violence raged as seven people were reported to have been killed by the fire of Syrian security forces on Monday, one day after 24 people were killed on Sunday’s crackdown, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
After six weeks of Syrian stalling, Qatar said it had information President Bashar al-Assad would sign the plan, which calls for withdrawing the army from towns that have turned against him, freeing thousands of political prisoners, starting dialogue with the opposition and letting monitors into the country.
“We have information that indicates that he will sign the initiative. If this is true or not true we’ll see,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh, in remarks aired by Al Arabiya.
Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said: “We are optimistic that Syria will join the Arab League in signing the protocol, which is ready now, within 24 hours.”
“That is what we hope for. If not, the Arab League foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday to consider measures that might be taken in the future,” he said in Riyadh, according to Reuters.
The Arab League has suspended Syria’s membership and announced sanctions over Assad’s refusal so far to sign up to its peace plan.
Arab ministers are set to meet later this week and could decide to submit their plan to the U.N. Security Council, making it a potential basis for wider international action.
Iraq’s foreign minister, meanwhile, will hold talks with the Damascus regime and opposition groups to try to end months of unrest, according to AFP.
On Saturday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh was in Damascus where he said he had “positive“ talks with Assad.
He then travelled to Cairo where he met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, and emerged sounding upbeat.
“We had very positive discussions on Sunday with the secretary general of the Arab League, who supported our initiative alongside that of the Arab League in an effort to find a solution between the Syrians,“ Fayadh said.
The initiative will be led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari who will soon announce further details, he said.
“Our efforts are still continuing to reach a deal between the government and the opposition in Syria,” Fayadh said by telephone from Cairo. “It’s too early to speak about the results.”
On the ground, army deserters battled loyalist troops, inflicting material and human losses on Assad’s forces while more civilians were killed, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Armed resistance has emerged in the last two months, alongside a peaceful protest movement that began in March inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
Loyalist forces, including a pro-Assad militia, have reportedly taken scores of casualties from insurgents in the last few weeks, especially in the northwestern province of Idlib near Turkey and in the central region of Homs.
Sectarian killings have occurred in Homs, a city of one million people, 140 km (88 miles) north of Damascus, between members of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and Sunnis, who are the majority in Syria.
Assad, 46, has ruled Syria since inheriting power from his late father in 2000. He says his forces are fighting insurgents backed by foreign powers and that his critics are serving a conspiracy to sow sectarian strife in the country of 21 million at the heart of the Arab Middle East.
Events on the ground in Syria are difficult to verify as the government does not allow most independent journalists.
The official state news agency SANA said a vehicle being used by what it described as terrorists to transport explosives blew up in Homs on Saturday, killing two militants.
SANA reported that “huge masses” demonstrated on Sunday in support of President Assad’s regime, voicing opposition to “foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs.”
In Palmyra, home to famed Roman-era ruins in the desert southeast of Homs, several security personnel defected after six protesters were injured in firing by security forces on a demonstration in the town, activist groups said.
They said a group of soldiers also defected from guard posts at the notorious Palmyra Prison, where hundreds of Assad’s father’s opponents were killed in the 1980s.
Fighting erupted between deserters and a garrison stationed near the jail. Armored vehicles fired heavy machineguns at residential neighborhoods, activists said.
“The people are responding by shouting ‘God is greater’ from their homes,” a resident of the town, who gave his name as Mohammad and works in the now-moribund tourism industry, told Reuters by phone.
The United Nations says Assad’s crackdown on protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year has killed more than 5,000 people. Authorities blame armed gangs for the violence and say 1,100 soldiers and police have been killed.
An Arab ministerial committee on Syria has recommended Arab foreign ministers, who will meet in Egypt on Wednesday, discuss asking the U.N. Security Council to adopt their peace plan.
Long-time Syrian ally and arms supplier Russia took a step closer to the Western position on Thursday when it presented a surprise draft resolution at the United Nations which stepped up its criticism of the bloodshed in Syria.
The opposition Syrian National Council met in Tunisia on Saturday, the first anniversary of the self-immolation of Tunisian vegetable seller Mohammed Bouazizi, the incident that set off the wave of revolts around the Arab world.