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Saturday, 15 August 2020

Cracks show as Arab League to meet again on Syria

Bashar Al-Assad's exiled uncle, Rifaat, proposes that Arab countries negotiate a deal with Damascus that guarantees the president's security "to allow him to resign"

AFP , Monday 14 Nov 2011
A press photographer, right, stands next to a Lebanese man carrying a sign calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down during a rally in support of Syria's ongoing anti-regime uprising in downtown Beirut on September 8, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)
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The Arab League is to hold a fresh meeting on Syria on Wednesday, officials said, amid signs of cracks in the resolve of the 22-member bloc to suspend Damascus over its lethal crackdown on protests.

Sunday's announcement of a new meeting came just a day after the League announced Syria's imminent suspension, drawing international praise but sparking mob attacks on foreign embassies in Damascus.

"We have decided on a meeting of foreign ministers of the Arab League on November 16 at Rabat (Morocco), on Syria," Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani told AFP.

In Rabat, a Moroccan official confirmed the meeting would take place.

Belani said that at a meeting in Cairo on November 2, the Arab League's foreign ministers had decided to give Syria 15 days to implement a peace plan.

Saturday's vote to suspend Syria from the League was not consistent with that earlier decision, he added.

Earlier Sunday, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said the suspension of Syria was "temporary and we will be able to lift it as quickly as possible."

At a meeting of the League's foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday, 18 of the 22 members voted to suspend Syria from November 16 over its failure to comply with an agreement to end its crackdown on protests, which the United Nations says has left at 3,500 people dead since mid-March.

Syria, Yemen and Lebanon voted against the measure, and Iraq abstained.

The foreign ministers recommended the withdrawal of Arab envoys from Damascus and agreed on sanctions, while inviting "all currents in the Syrian opposition" to meet at its Cairo headquarters to map out a transition.

It said the suspension would remain in place until President Bashar al-Assad implements the November 2 accord which his government signed, in which Damascus was to release detainees, withdraw the army from urban areas, allow free movement for observers and media, and negotiate with the opposition.

The Arab League resolution won widespread praise from the international community, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailing the "strong and courageous" move, while the opposition Syrian National Council said the decision was a "step in the right direction."

In a surprise announcement seen as an attempt to head off the suspension, Syrian state television said on Sunday that Damascus had called for an urgent summit of the Arab League "to address the crisis and its negative consequences in the Arab world."

The report came even as Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi was announcing the group would be "studying mechanisms it could implement to protect civilians in Syria."

The League's decision prompted an outpouring of anger among Assad supporters who surged in their tens of thousands into central Damascus on Sunday to show their support for the president.

"The Syrian people are filling the squares of the nation and announce their rejection of the Arab League decision," state television said, showing more protests in the commercial hub of Aleppo and other cities.

Late Saturday, hundreds of angry demonstrators attacked the embassies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which were among the countries that voted to suspend Syria. The attacks sparked howls of international outrage.

Anatolia news agency said thousands of protesters also attacked Turkey's diplomatic missions in Syria, furious over Ankara's support for the Arab League decision.

In response, Turkey ordered the evacuation of non-essential diplomatic personnel from Syria.

France condemned protesters' attacks on diplomatic missions in Syria and summoned the country's ambassador.

Russia meanwhile said it will continue exporting arms to Syria since no international decision has been made outlawing it.

And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lashed out at Washington and Europe, insisting they were preparing to topple Assad just like they worked to "assassinate" Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Assad's exiled uncle, Rifaat, meanwhile, proposed Sunday that Arab countries negotiate a deal with Damascus that guarantees the president's security "to allow him to resign".

"The regime is ready to leave, but it wants guarantees, not only for its members but also that there will not be civil war after its departure," said the former deputy president.

Activists accused Assad's security forces of killing at least nine people on Sunday in the restive central cities of Homs and Hama, while also reporting that two members of the security forces were killed in an ambush.

In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, a 15-year-old boy was killed when "security forces opened fire to disperse a group of students who tried to join a demonstration," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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