Syria signs Arab League deal to allow in monitors

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem: "We do not seek to waste time. It is us seeking a solution"

Syria has signed an agreement to allow observers to monitor its implementation of an Arab League initiative to end the crackdown on anti-government protests.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the Arab League had accepted amendments demanded by Damascus.

The Arab League said an advance team of observers would go to Syria this week.

Later, the UN General Assembly voted by a strong majority to condemn the Syrian authorities for the crackdown, which has left 5,000 people dead since March.

The non-binding resolution - passed by a vote of 133 to 11, with 43 abstentions - demanded an immediate end to human rights abuses and called on Damascus to implement the Arab League peace plan.

Syria's permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, accused some sponsors of the resolution of waging a "political, media and diplomatic war" against the country.

Meanwhile, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said between 60 and 70 Syrian army deserters had been killed as they abandoned their positions in the towns of Kansafra and Kafr Awid, in the restive north-western province of Idlib.

Survivors said security forces had shot them with machine-guns.

The organisation also said security forces had killed at least nine civilians on Monday - five in the southern province of Deraa, four in the Jabal al-Zawiya area of Idlib province, three near the city of Deir al-Zour, and one in the Damascus district of Midan.

Start Quote

This is just a ploy... They have no intention of implementing any initiative”

End Quote Burhan Ghalioun Leader, Syrian National Council

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a group that organises and documents protests, put the death toll at 31, including nine in Kansafra, six in Damascus and its suburbs, six in Deraa, and five in Homs.

'Model of democracy'

After the protocol was signed by his deputy at the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo, Mr Muallem said the Syrian government had agreed because it wanted help to find a "political solution".

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

"The signing of the protocol is the beginning of co-operation between us and the Arab League and we will welcome monitors."

He said Syria's sovereignty would be protected because the Arab League had agreed to amendments to the deal, which also calls for all violence to be halted, for the withdrawal of troops from the streets and the release of detainees.

The observers would be "free" in their movements and "under the protection of the Syrian government", he added, but would not be allowed to visit sensitive military sites.

A child holds a poster saying "The children of Moadamieh and Daria are mourning their childhood", during a protest against President Bashar al-Assad near Damascus (18 December 2011) Activists say more than 900 people have died while Syria wavered on whether to agree to the plan

Mr Muallem said he was confident that the observers would support the government's assertion that "armed terrorist groups" were stirring up trouble, and targeting security personnel and civilians.

The Arab League's Secretary General, Nabil al-Arabi, told reporters in Cairo that an advance party led by one of his assistants would travel to Syria in the next two or three days to prepare for the arrival of monitors.

"We now have about 100 names including representatives of non-governmental organisations and governments," he said, adding that media representatives and members of security forces would be included.

The observers will have a one-month mandate that can be extended by another month if both sides agree.

Blogger released

Mr Arabi also announced that the Arab League would organise a meeting with all factions of the Syrian opposition and prepare the ground for dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Razan Ghazzawi Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi's release came after an international campaign

But the leader of the Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, dismissed the government's decision as "just a ploy".

"The Syrian regime is manoeuvring to try to prevent the Syrian file being submitted to the UN Security Council," Burhan Ghalioun told reporters in Tunisia. "They have no intention of implementing any initiative."

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says there is much scepticism in activist circles about the government's willingness to implement a peace plan which could result in large parts of the country falling out of its control.

Since mid-November, Syria wavered on whether to agree to the deployment of observers, prompting the Arab League to impose a range of economic sanctions.

In that time, more than 900 civilians have been killed by Syrian security forces, including 80 children and 29 women, according to the LCC.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression says that a well-known Syrian-American blogger who was arrested earlier this month, Razan Ghazzawi, was released on bail of $300 (£193) late on Sunday.

Ms Ghazzawi, who has run a blog calling for democratic reform from Damascus since 2009, is accused of setting up an organisation that seeks to change the social and economic status of the country.

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