Damascus rejects Spanish peace plan

AFP , Monday 15 Aug 2011

Spanish envoy fails to convince al-Assad to accept a three-point proposal aimed at bringing a peaceful end to the Syrian revolution

Spain sent a special envoy to Damascus last month to convince President Bashar al-Assad to accept a plan to end months of violence in the country, a Spanish news report said on Monday. The government was also "ready to offer asylum to Assad and his family in Spain," the country's leading daily El Pais said.

The violence in Syria has killed around 2,200 people since March, including some 400 members of the security forces, according to rights activists. Syrian authorities have blamed the bloodshed on armed gangs and Islamist militants.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sent Bernardino Leon, who was at the time one of his senior aides, to Damascus in July "to propose a transition plan for a peaceful solution to the revolution," El Pais said, quoting sources close to Leon.

The mission was so secret that Leon travelled alone using an ordinary passport rather than a diplomatic one. He never set foot in any public building in Damascus, instead meeting with Syrian officials at their homes.

El Pais said, "successive Spanish governments have maintained ... a special relationship with Syria that is beneficial to both countries.

"Zapatero is no exception," and had maintained telephone contact with Assad since the start of the uprising.

Leon's three-point proposal to the Syrian regime included an immediate halt to the repression, the holding of a national conference in Madrid of all Syrian parties in the conflict that would outline a timetable for transition, and the formation of a new government with members of the opposition.

But the proposal was soundly rejected. "My impression is that (Assad) will not compromise on anything substantial," Leon said on his return, El Pais said. "My interlocutors were totally detached from reality."

Aides to Leon said he did not meet with Assad, but other sources told El Pais that he did. The mission was the last Leon would carry out for the Spanish government before taking up his current post as EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean.

The UN Security Council is due to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss human rights and the humanitarian emergency in Syria.

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