Monday, October 31, 2011
Arab League asks Syrian government to hold talks with opposition in Cairo
The Arab League has handed Syrian officials a plan for ending seven months of increasingly violent unrest against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, Reuters reports. The Arab League committee put its plan, involving talks in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents, to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Assad, on Sunday in Qatar.
The League had previously set a two-week deadline for the start of such talks, which expired on Sunday. The committee said it hoped for a Syrian response to its plan by Monday. "More important than a dialogue is action... This committee has given a very strong response to the recent killings," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, whose country presides over the committee, told reporters in Doha.
Syrian objections to holding a meeting regarding what they consider domestic affairs outside Syria was one of the points of disagreement between the two sides.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday that he would co-operate with the opposition even as he had earlier warned in another interview of an "earthquake" if the West intervenes in his country. In an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said international involvement risked transforming Syria into "another Afghanistan". He also stressed Syria was key to keeping the peace in the region. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans? Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region," he said.
Opposition sources said 61 civilians and 30 soldiers had been killed in the latest clashes over the previous three days. On Sunday, security forces and pro-Assad militiamen killed at least 10 civilians, mostly in Homs, 140 km (85 miles) north of Damascus, bringing the total in the last 72 hours to 61, activists and residents said.
Homs province, which borders Lebanon and is home to one of Syria's two oil refineries, is emerging as a center of armed resistance to Assad's rule after months of peaceful protests that often drew a violent response from security forces.One activist group said fighters thought to be army deserters had killed 30 soldiers in clashes in Homs city and in an ambush in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday.