Middle East

Syria 'to accept' Arab League monitoring mission

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hula, near Homs. 13 Nov 2011
Image caption Protests have continued across Syria despite the eight-month crackdown

Syria has conditionally accepted an Arab League plan to send a mission to observe the implementation of proposals aimed at ending violence, a Syrian diplomatic source has told the BBC.

The source, who wished to remain unnamed, said Damascus had already informed the League of the decision.

The source said a few adjustments were being worked out, but "they were not designed to hinder the mission".

The League on Wednesday gave Syria three days to agree or face sanctions.

The Arab League plan, drawn up earlier this month, calls on Syria to withdraw tanks from restive cities, cease its attacks on protesters and engage in dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the plan, but failed to honour it.

On Friday, at least 12 people were killed across in continuing violence across Syria, opposition activists say.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since protests started in March. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and militants.

The claims have not been verified independently, as Damascus has banned most of foreign media from entering the country.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned opposition groups on Friday "to avoid recourse to an armed insurrection".

"A civil war would of course be a true catastrophe," he said.

The warning comes days after a group of army defectors called the Free Syrian Army attacked a building belonging to the country's air force intelligence, killing a number of troops.

Russia warned afterwards that the situation was "similar to a civil war".

Spirit 'untouched'

The Arab League formally suspended Syria on Wednesday.

The Syrian source told the BBC's Jeremy Bowen that the Syrian government had sent the message to the Arab League on Thursday.

The political source said Syrian acceptance was subject to some changes designed to protect what he called "the country's sovereignty and dignity".

Officials do not want it to be called an observer mission, but say calling it an Arab League mission would be acceptable, says our Middle East editor.

The changes, the source said, do not affect the spirit of the mission.

He said "there are no tricks, we don't want to hinder them. The ball is now in the court of the Arab League".

The question now is whether the changes will be acceptable to the Arab League itself, our correspondent says.

If Syria is seen as playing for time or trying to dilute the mission it may get a negative response.

Sanctions threat

Germany, France and the UK have tabled a UN resolution calling for an end to human rights violations in Syria and urging Damascus to implement the Arab League plan. The draft was also backed by four Arab countries.

Russia and China, which hold a veto at the UN, have refused to condemn Syria.

But France, another veto holder, says sanctions against Syria must be strengthened.

Speaking after talks in Turkey, the French foreign minister said: "We have called on [President] Assad to change but the regime did not want to know, which is not acceptable."

His Turkish counterpart, Ahmed Davutoglu, said it was time to escalate the pressure to stop the "massacre".

Syria's anti-government protests, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, first erupted in mid-March after the arrest of a group of teenagers who spray-painted a revolutionary slogan on a wall. The protests soon spread, and the UN says 3,500 people have died in the turmoil - mainly protestors but also members of Syria's security forces - while thousands more have been injured.
Although the arrest of the teenagers in the southern city of Deraa first prompted people to take to the streets, unrest has since spread to other areas, including Hama, Homs, Latakia, Jisr al-Shughour and Baniyas. Demonstrators are demanding greater freedom, an end to corruption, and, increasingly, the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.
The government has responded to the protests with overwhelming military force, sending tanks and troops into towns and cities. Amateur video footage shows tanks and snipers firing on unarmed protesters. There may have been an armed element to the uprising from its early days and army deserters have formed the Free Syrian Army.
Some of the bloodiest events have taken place in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. In early June, officials claimed 120 security personnel were killed by armed gangs, however protesters said the dead were shot by troops for refusing to kill demonstrators. As the military moved to take control of the town, thousands fled to neighbouring Turkey, taking refuge in camps.
Although the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo have seen pockets of unrest and some protests, it has not been widespread - due partly to a heavy security presence. There have been rallies in the capital - one with an enormous Syrian flag - in support of President Assad, who still receives the backing of many in Syria's middle class, business elite and minority groups.
The Assad family has been in power for 40 years, with Bashar al-Assad inheriting office in 2000. The president has opened up the economy, but has continued to jail critics and control the media. He is from the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam - but the country's 20 million people are mainly Sunni. The biggest protests have been in Sunni-majority areas.
The uprising has cost 3,500 lives, according to the UN and Jordan's King Abdullah says that President Assad should now step down. The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and voted for sanctions. The EU has frozen the assets of Syrian officials, placed an arms embargo on Syria and banned imports of its oil. But fears remain of Syria collapsing into civil war.
BACK {current} of {total} NEXT