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Arabs propose ‘serious’ plan to end bloodshed in Syria, demand ‘concrete steps’

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Arab states on Sunday made “serious” proposal for the embattled Syrian regime to end the bloodshed and demanded the President Bashar al-Assad to take “concrete steps”, Qatar’s foreign minister said.

An Arab ministerial team “agreed on a serious proposal to stop the killing and all forms of violence in Syria,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told reporters after a meeting in the Qatari capital.

“The Syrian delegation has said they would respond tomorrow,” he said.

In response to a warning from Assad that any Western intervention in Syria would inflame the region, Jassem said the risk was if Syria failed to take “concrete steps” to stop the violence.

“The entire region is at risk of a massive storm,” he said after more than three hours of talks between a group of Arab foreign ministers and a Syrian team led by their Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.

“What is required of Syria ... is concrete steps that could avoid what happened to other countries,” Sheikh Hamad said, in apparent reference to the conflict in Libya.

Assad has warned that Western intervention in Syria would cause an “earthquake” across the Middle East, Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper quoted him as telling one of its journalists.

Since the start of protests in March, Syrian authorities have blamed the violence on foreign-backed gunmen and religious extremists they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.

Syria has barred most international media, making it hard to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

But the resilience of the protesters, the determination of authorities to crush dissent and the emerging armed insurgency have combined to make Syria’s turmoil one of the most intractable confrontations of this year’s Arab uprisings.

Assad, whose father put down an armed Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, killing many thousands, said the latest crisis was part of the same conflict.

“We’ve been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them,” he said.

Authorities had made “many mistakes” in the early part of the uprising, but he said the situation had now improved and that he had started implementing reform within a week of the troubles erupting in mid-March.

“The pace of reform is not too slow. The vision needs to be mature. It would take only 15 seconds to sign a law, but if it doesn’t fit your society, you’ll have division,” he said.

Assad’s opponents say although he lifted emergency law and gave citizenship to thousands of stateless Kurds, his promises of reform ring hollow while security forces kill protesters and arrest thousands of people. They also say protests are driven by a desire for greater freedoms, not by an Islamist agenda.

Syria, a majority Sunni Muslim nation of 20 million people, is dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Aware of potentially seismic geopolitical implications if Assad were to fall, leaders in the mostly Sunni Arab world have been cautious about criticizing the Syrian president as they struggle with domestic challenges to their own rule.

Sunni ascendancy in Syria could affect Israel and shake up regional alliances. Assad strengthened ties with Shiite Iran while also upholding his father’s policy of avoiding conflict with Israel on the occupied Golan Heights frontier.