Arabs await Syrian reply to plan to end unrest

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Arab foreign ministers will review on Wednesday Syria’s response to their initiative aimed at ending seven months of violence that has raged during an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. The Arab League has drawn up proposals to end bloodshed that the United Nations says has killed 3,000 people. Assad has deployed his army and security forces to crush protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. He has said they are battling Islamist militants and armed gangs who the authorities say have killed 1,100 security personnel. Syria said on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with League representatives but gave no details. Syrian state media said an official announcement would come at the League meeting.
Diplomats have said proposals include the immediate release of prisoners, withdrawal of security forces from the streets, League monitoring and starting talks with the opposition. On Wednesday, sources at Cairo-based Arab League said Syria had made no formal reply. “The Syrian position is a little vague. They want to surprise everyone with their response at the meeting,” the representative of one Arab state said. A Gulf state League delegate said disagreement remained over the mechanism to monitor street unrest, the venue for a dialogue and the participation of foreign-based Syrian dissidents. Syrian newspaper Al Watan carried a similar report.
Assad has said he wants dialogue. His opponents say the killing must stop first. Analysts also question whether the Syrian leader would be ready to halt military action against protesters and armed opponents of his 11-year rule.
Activists said on Wednesday at least 11 people were killed by security forces in and around Homs in central Syria. “The regime is trying to buy time. Its calls for reform and dialogue are false and deceiving. The (Syrian) National Council reaffirms its demands that it had submitted to the Arab League,” the opposition council said in a statement. The council said it wanted the League to take steps that included suspending Syria from the pan-Arab body and ensuring international protection for civilians, with Arab backing. “The meeting will focus on discussing the Syrian response to the Arab roadmap which the Arab ministerial committee presented (in Qatar),” it said, referring to talks with Syrian officials.
Citing the diplomats, it said it was “not possible under any circumstances to repeat the Libyan model in Syria”. NATO has also ruled out any such military intervention in Syria. Syrian activists said security forces shot dead at least 11 villagers they had stopped at a roadblock near Homs. A YouTube video distributed by anti-Assad activists purportedly showed several bodies, gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs. Another five were killed in Homs. All 11 were Sunnis, who form the majority of Syria’s population. Their killing follows reports by an activist in Homs, and on social network pages of Assad supporters, that nine members of the president’s minority Alawite sect had been dragged from a bus and killed by gunmen near Homs on Tuesday. Syrian state television showed tens of thousands of people rallying in Syria’s eastern city of Raqqa, in the latest in a series of state-organised rallies designed to show Assad enjoys popular support nationwide. Similar demonstrations have taken place in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia and Deir al-Zor.