Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Syria accepts Annan's deadline, but West is sceptical and Arab wold divided

Free Syrian Army rebels in a suburb of Damascus. (AP)

Syria has agreed to "immediately" start pulling troops out of protest cities and to complete a troop and heavy weapon withdrawal by April 10, Arab League and UN envoy Kofi Annan said Monday. US ambassador Susan Rice told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis that
the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, had written to Annan on Sunday agreeing to the new deadline.
 She added that Annan's deputy Nasser al-Qudwa is in contact with Syrian opposition groups to get them to halt hostilities within 48 hours of government forces carrying out their commitments.
 The Syrian ambassador to th UN, Bashar Jaafari, said there were no preconditions for the April 10 accord with Annan. But he added: "We are expecting Mr Annan and some parties in the Security Council to get the same kind of commitments" from the opposition.

The US ambassador said the United States and other countries doubted that Assad would carry out the new commitments.  "Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days, that rather than a diminution of the violence we might yet again see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so," Rice said.
During the meeting Annan also called on the council to support the April 10 deadline and to start considering the deployment of a UN-backed observer mission in Syria if fighting is halted. Members of Annan's team are to go to Damascus this week to discuss a possible observer mission.
 The Syrian government has largely recaptured most rebel-held areas in recent months, but still faces sporadic clashes from poorly equipped rebel fighters.
The UN estimates that over 9,000 people have died in the year-long uprising while the government says over 3,000 of its forces have been killed.

Arab, Western and other nations at a Friends of Syria meeting on Sunday in Istanbul called for a deadline to be set, but Russia, Syria's last major ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls. "Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Lavrov said the peace plan would not work unless rebel forces also agreed to halt hostilities.

Some countries at the conference – notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have been openly calling for the arming of insurgents in Syria. The US, Europe and Turkey, however, are more cautious, fearing it could fuel an all-out civil war. But the US will send non-lethal material to the rebels, like "communications equipment, US Foreign minister Clinton announced. Also Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) announced that the SNC will take upon itself to pay the salaries of members of the Free Syrian Army. The SNC in turn, receives most of its money through contributions from the Gulf countries.
 The hardline stance of Qatar and Saudi Arabia has sharpened the differences in the Arab world. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday sharply criticized the Qatari and Saudi position, as well as the ''Friends of Syria'' conference.
 Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, at the opening of the Arab summit in Baghdad on 29 March.  (Reuters)

The Syria issue has split the Arab world, with hardline states including  advocating arming Syrian rebels and calling for Assad's departure, while others including Iraq want to see a political solution.
"We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the (Assad) regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region," Maliki said at a news conference after the
"The stance of these two states is very strange," he said in apparent reference to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
"They are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire, and they will hear our voice, that we are against arming and against foreign interference."
"We are against the interference of some countries in Syria's internal affairs, and those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country," the Iraqi leader added. He also predicted that Assad's regime will hang on, saying: "It has been one year and the regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?"

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