Syria signs Arab League plan; observers to travel within 72 hours, says League chief


Syria signed an Arab League protocol that would allow monitors into its territory, the country’s foreign minister said.

“We wouldn’t have signed the Arab protocol if it did not preserve the Syrian sovereignty,” Walid al-Muallem told reporters in Damascus.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad and Arab League Assistant Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli inked the document at League headquarters in Cairo, an AFP reporter said.

Muallem said that Russia has asked Syria to sign the protocol to allow the observers in the country in order to avoid more bloodshed and “Syria listened to the advice.”

Observers to travel within three days

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said that an advance team of observers would head to Damascus within 72 hours, after Syria inked a deal to end nine months of bloodshed.

"Within two or three days, an advance team of observers headed by Arab League Assistant Secretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal, including security, legal and administrative observers, will be sent," Arabi told reporters.

“The Arab League has a list of 100 names of observers from Arab, non-governmental organizations and representatives of Arab countries ... (and) this number will be increased at a later date,” he added.

He also called on all parties concerned to make a show of “goodwill” in order to implement the agreement.

The mission, he said, will allow the observers to move around Syria freely to monitor the situation and draft reports.

“The protocol is nothing but an Arab mechanism to go to Syria and move freely in various areas to confirm the implementation of the Arab plan which the Syrian government had previously agreed,” he said.

France urged Syria to allow an Arab League observer mission to start its work monitoring the bloody conflict there as quickly as possible.

“We regret there have been 30 more deaths in the past two days. It’s urgent,” a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by AFP as saying shortly after Damascus agreed to sign the Arab plan.

The 22-member Arab bloc had been trying to persuade Damascus to accept the observer mission for weeks.

Under the terms of the deal that the observers are intended to oversee, Syrian security forces are required to pull back from the towns and villages that have been at the centre of nine straight months of protests and open negotiations with the opposition under League auspices.

On Nov. 27, the bloc approved a raft of sanctions against Syria for failing to heed an ultimatum to admit the observers, including suspension from its meetings.

Earlier this month, Syria finally said it would allow in the mission, but laid down a number of conditions, including the lifting of sanctions.

In his press conference, Muallem had also said that “it is up to the Arab League to remove the sanctions against Syria.”

“Article 8 of the Arab League charter protects existing structures and bans countries from interfering... In this protocol we are talking about protecting civilians from terrorist groups.”

He also insisted that the regime was sincere in its promises of reform.

“We want to emerge from this crisis and build a safe, modern Syria, a Syria that will be a model of democracy.” he said.

“We want a political solution to this crisis in order to emerge from it in the best way possible.”

As the observer deal was finally signed, the Assad government organized a show of strength on the streets of Damascus mobilising thousands of its supporters.

A huge crowd gathered in Sabaa Bahrat Square in the city center, chanting slogans in support of Assad and against the sanctions ordered by the Arab League.

Huge flags of countries that have opposed punitive measures against the regime hung from surrounding office blocks, alongside the colors of Damascus’s regional allies.

“Hail to Russia, hail to China,” a rally organizer chanted over a loud-hailer, saluting the two veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent members’ blocking of an October resolution that would have threatened regime figures with the “targeted measures.”

“Hail to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hail to Hassan Nasrallah,” the speaker added of Syria’s closest regional allies, the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that dominates the current government in neighboring Lebanon.

State television gave prominent coverage to the rally, hailing the young demonstrators’ desire to “express their support for the reforms being undertaken by President Assad and their rejection of foreign interference.”

The United Nations says at least 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March.