Arab League rejects Syrian demand to change peace plan

A rally in Damascus in support of President Assad, 20 November Sunday saw a new large rally in Damascus in support of President Assad

The Arab League has rejected a demand by Syria to alter its plan for ending the country's conflict, which has reportedly left at least 3,500 dead.

It dismissed Syria's demand to amend its proposal for a 500-strong observer mission to be sent to the country.

The Arab League's deadline for Syria to end its crackdown passed overnight with no sign of violence abating.

President Bashar al-Assad has said his country will not bow to "pressure" and predicted the conflict would continue.

Speaking to the UK's Sunday Times, he said the unity and stability of Syria were at stake.

Analysis

Despite accusing the Arab League of bias and of acting as a stalking horse for the Western powers, the Syrian foreign minister did not close the door on the Arab initiative.

He said Damascus would reply with a list of queries before deciding whether to sign a protocol allowing the pan-Arab body to deploy observers in the country.

In its statement a few hours earlier, the league ruled out proposed Syrian changes, which it said would radically alter the nature of the mission. But it reiterated its own commitment to resolving the Syrian crisis within an Arab framework. So in theory a last-minute deal cannot be ruled out.

But time is running short. The League announced that an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers would be held in Cairo on Thursday to follow up on Syria.

If Damascus cannot find a way of complying seriously with the Arab initiative by then, it could face tougher sanctions from the League - and renewed pressure for hostile moves at the UN Security Council.

The Arab League plan, seen by the world as the best hope for resolving the conflict peacefully, seems to have crashed in flames, the BBC's Jim Muir reports.

On Sunday, there were reports of a grenade attack on a building of the ruling party in the capital Damascus.

If confirmed, it would be the first such attack reported inside the capital since the uprising began in March. It was claimed by the Free Syrian Army, a group of military defectors.

At least 27 people were killed on Saturday, according to opposition activists, including four government intelligence agents whose car was ambushed in Hama by gunmen believed to be army defectors.

Foreign journalists are unable to move around Syria freely, making it difficult to verify reports.

League 'tool'

The Arab League's plan has been the focus of efforts to find a diplomatic solution and comes as key international players such as Russia and the US warned of the danger of civil war in Syria.

In a statement on Sunday, the Arab League said: "It was agreed that the amendments and appendices proposed by the Syrian side affect the core of the document and would radically change the nature of the mission which is to oversee the implementation of the Arab plan to end the crisis in Syria and protect Syrian civilians."

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem: "We behaved in a positive manner"

Reacting to the statement, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem reiterated that Damascus has accepted the Arab League plan - with what he stated were minor amendments designed to safeguard Syrian sovereignty.

Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Mr Muallem said "slow and steady" discussions were needed and warned against "haste and overreaction".

He also criticised the league, saying "parts of the Arab world" were using the organisation as a "tool" to involve UN Security Council in the crisis.

A Western-backed draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown has been vetoed in the Security Council by China and Russia.

Tensions between the Arab League and Syria have increased as violence has escalated in the country.

Arab League proposals

The Arab League in session with Turkey in Rabat, Morocco, 16 November
  • End to violence and killing
  • Allow foreign journalists to work freely
  • Release prisoners recently detained
  • Withdraw all military equipment from Syrian cities
  • Government-opposition dialogue within two weeks

Last weekend the league suspended Syria's membership after it failed to honour the terms of its peace plan.

Syria said it had agreed to the plan in principle, but was seeking amendments. Reports said it wanted to reduce the number of observers from 500 to 40. Critics accused Damascus of stalling for time.

Mr Assad told the Sunday Times: "The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue."

"However, I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it."

Mr Assad appeared to dismiss the Arab League plan, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

The Syrian president said it was designed to show that the Arabs were divided, and to prepare the way for outside military intervention which, he repeated, would have dire consequences for the whole region.

Mr Assad's supporters took to the streets of Damascus again on Sunday, carrying a giant portrait of Mr Assad.

Arab League foreign ministers are to meet again on Thursday to discuss Syria.

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