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Sunday 18 December 2011

Arab League ministers meet in Qatar on Syria crisis

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather during a march through the streets after Friday prayers in Adlb December 16, 2011. The banner reads: ''Arab League killed us''. REUTERS/Handout
DUBAI | Sat Dec 17, 2011 6:48pm IST
(Reuters) - An Arab League ministerial panel met on Saturday to address Syria's stance on a plan for ending its violent crackdown on protesters, with diplomats voicing optimism that new Russian pressure on Damascus could overcome its resistance to the proposal.
Al Jazeera television said Syria's government had demanded an end to what it termed a media campaign against it and to alleged arms smuggling to its opponents before signing the Arab League protocol outlining steps to defuse the Syrian crisis.
Arab governments on Friday called off a regular foreign ministers' meeting meant to weigh Syria's response to the initiative for ending violence, in which more than 5,000 people involved in Syria's unrest have been killed, by U.N. count.
Instead, a lower-level meeting of the League's ministerial committee on Syria, comprising the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan, Oman, Qatar and Algeria, began in Qatar on Saturday.
Diplomats at Arab League headquarters in Cairo said the full ministerial meeting was cancelled because some Arab governments had yet to give their reply to a conditional Syrian acceptance of the League protocol presented last month.
President Bashar al-Assad's government demanded the annulment of Arab League sanctions imposed on Damascus and Syria's reinstatement in the regional bloc.
The League had suspended Syria's membership over its refusal to comply with the peace plan calling for Assad to withdraw troops and tanks from restive cities, free prisoners and start a reform-minded dialogue with the opposition.
The Arab League also wants to send an observer mission to Syria to ensure compliance with the proposal.
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria with an iron hand for 41 years, says his government is fighting insurgents inspired by foreign powers.
Diplomats voiced new optimism that heightened pressure on Syria arising from Russia's introduction of a beefed up draft resolution against the violence at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday might prod Assad to accept the Arab League plan.
The move by Moscow, long a major arms supplier to Damascus, offered a chance for the 15-nation Security Council to make its first statement of purpose on the Syrian upheaval.
The council has been split, with Western countries harshly critical of Syria pitted against Russia, China and non-aligned countries that have avoided blaming Assad for the violence.
Al Jazeera said that any signing of the protocol by Syria was likely to take place in Cairo and not in Qatar.

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