x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Arab states turn up the pressure on Syria's Assad

Arab foreign ministers have come up with a proposal that will be discussed by their heads of state at the Arab League Summit in Baghdad.

Anti-Syrian regime protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Binish town in Idlib province on Monday. The Arabic banner in the background reads:
Anti-Syrian regime protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Binish town in Idlib province on Monday. The Arabic banner in the background reads: "To who it may concern, the revolution's court will not forgive anyone".

BAGHDAD //Arab foreign ministers yesterday demanded that Bashar Al Assad stop making promises and start implementing a UN peace plan after Syria said it would not cooperate with the Arab League.

"We tried solving the issue with negotiations and keep it in the House of Arabs, but that approach has been unsuccessful," said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, on the second day of the Arab League Summit in Baghdad.

"The pressure has become critical and the Syrian crisis is no longer a domestic issue on a national level, but on an international level.

"The Arab League will no longer tolerate pledges or further talks but rather look for implementation of the development of the political process in Syria."

Arab foreign ministers have come up with a proposal that will be discussed today by their heads of state.

Its objective is to develop a political process in Syria that will bring peace and make way for elections. The plan calls for Syria to withdraw troops from major cities, let in humanitarian aid and release protesters detained in the past year.

The Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, said Damascus would "not deal with any initiative" that might come out of the 22-member League.

Syria has refused to work with the League since the pan-Arab body suspended its membership as punishment for the bloody repression of protests demanding the removal of Mr Al Assad as president.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the violence and Syria says 2,000 of its soldiers have died.

On Tuesday the regime accepted an initiative by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calling for a ceasefire, but violence continued yesterday with clashes between government forces and armed rebels.

Syrian forces captured the town of Saraqeb from rebels after four days of fighting in which more than 40 people were killed and homes were burnt down, activists said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the reports and said most of the town's residents had fled along with the rebels.

The reports by activists could not be verified, but video from Saraqeb posted on the internet appeared to back claims of destruction and pillaging.

One video showed what appeared to be a destroyed home. Another showed burnt-out apartments, several burnt cars and a row of shops with their shutters blown off. The slogan "Down with Bashar" was sprayed on one of the shutters. "Down with Iran's dog," read another. Iran is one of Syria's last close allies.

Syria's opposition doubts that Mr Al Assad will carry out the terms of the UN peace plan.

"The priority is to end the violence in Syria," Dr Anwar Garqash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said yesterday in Baghdad. "We support Annan's proposal."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said the League would try to agree on how to implement the Annan plan, including possible talks with Mr Al Assad's opponents, but gave no details.

Mr Zebari said the Arab summit would issue a resolution that complements the international efforts to end the conflict. He said yesterday that a "marriage" between Arab and international proposals on Syria was likely to force the Syrian regime and its opponents to reach some agreement. "Iraq has some ideas it wants to bring to the table", Mr Al Dabbagh said, but Iraq would "like the Arab League to lead this dialogue that is adjunct with Kofi Annan's proposal."

 

halsayegh@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse