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Syria accepts Arab League peace plan to end bloody crackdown on civilians

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Syria has fully accepted an Arab League plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed and withdraw its military presence from cities. The decision came during a ministerial meeting at the organization’s Cairo headquarters, a League official said.

“The Syrian delegation accepted the Arab League plan without reservations and in its entirety,” the official said.

“The Arab League welcomes the Syrian government’s agreement to the Arab plan,” the statement said, adding that it “emphasized the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan.”

“The Arab committee [overseeing the plan] is responsible for submitting periodic reports to the ministerial council of the Arab League on the progress of carrying out the plan,” it said.

But the White House on Wednesday reiterated its call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, despite the Arab League announcement that Damascus had accepted its plan.

“Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “We support all international efforts that are aimed toward convincing the regime to stop attacking its own people.”
The peace plan agreed to by Syria provides for a “complete halt to the violence to protect civilians,” AFP reported.

It also calls for the “release of people detained as a result of the recent events, the withdrawal of forces from towns and districts where there have been armed clashes, and the granting of access to the Arab League, and Arab and international media.”

The blueprint stipulates that “the Arab ministerial committee (headed by the prime minister of Qatar) will conduct consultations with the government and the various Syrian opposition parties aimed at launching a national dialogue.”

The text did not specify a venue for the dialogue, a bone of contention between the government, which insists on Damascus, and the opposition, which says it should be outside Syria.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after a ministerial meeting in Cairo: “We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately.”

The Qatari minister said the Arab League would continue contacts between the Syrian government and the opposition “in preparation for a national dialogue within two weeks.”

The meeting came as Syrian security forces committed a new massacre in Homs that left 13 people dead, Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday, citing activists. The victims were found beheaded and their hands had been tied, activists said.

Al Arabiya reported that the total death toll reached 24 by late Wednesday.

Meanwhile, an activist group told Reuters that Syrian army deserters killed seven soldiers and eight members of the security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad in an apparent response to the killing of villagers earlier on Wednesday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel soldiers killed the soldiers through a bomb attack on a military convoy in Hama province. It said they also killed eight members of the security forces and pro-Assad gunmen in a separate attack.