Arab Officials: Syria’s Assad to Sign Peace Plan Soon

Posted December 18th, 2011 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Senior Arab officials say they expect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quickly sign an Arab League peace plan aimed at ending his deadly crackdown on a nine-month-long opposition uprising.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Sunday he has information that Mr. Assad will sign the plan. Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi also said he is “optimistic” that Syria will agree to the Arab initiative within 24 hours.

The plan calls on Syria to allow observers into the country to verify whether the government is honoring a pledge to stop security forces attacking protesters who have been demanding an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. The initiative also requires Damascus to engage in a dialogue with opposition groups on political reforms.

The Qatari prime minister said Saturday the Arab League may submit its plan to the U.N. Security Council for approval if Syria does not sign it by Wednesday, when foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab bloc meet in Cairo. Sheikh Hamad was speaking in Doha, where he chaired a league committee that recommended asking the United Nations to act on the Syrian crisis.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on Damascus last month to pressure it into accepting the peace initiative. Syria has demanded changes to the plan, saying the proposed observer mission would violate its sovereignty.

Rights activists say Syrian security forces carried out more assaults on centers of anti-government protest on Sunday, killing at least 10 civilians in shootings and other attacks in the central province of Homs and other areas. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian army defectors also killed six government soldiers and destroyed three armored vehicles in a battle in the town of Qusair in Homs.

Syrian state news agency SANA says funerals were held Sunday for seven security personnel killed in fighting with rebel soldiers in the provinces of Homs, Idlib and the Damascus countryside. Syrian authorities blame violence in the country on “armed terrorist groups” and deny using force to suppress protesters.

The latest casualty figures could not be independently verified because Syria heavily restricts the work of foreign reporters in the country.

The United Nations has estimated that violence linked to Syria's crackdown has killed at least 5,000 people since the uprising began in March.