Syria regime 'fully accepts' Arab League plan to end violence
Syria on Wednesday fully accepted an Arab League plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed, a League official said, although the UN chief warned that the regime still has to implement the deal as agreed.
The agreement announced at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo came amid huge pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, even from traditional allies such as China, to end weeks of prevarication and sign up to the deal drawn up by the pan-Arab bloc.
"The Syrian delegation accepted the Arab League plan without reservations and in its entirety," the League official said.
The peace plan agreed to by Syria provides for a "complete halt to the violence to protect civilians."
More than 3,000 people have died in the government's bloody crackdown on the unprecedented protests against Assad's rule which broke out in mid-March, according to UN figures.
The blueprint also calls for the "release of people detained as a result of the recent events, the withdrawal of forces from towns and districts where there have been armed clashes, and the granting of access to the Arab League, and Arab and international media."
It stipulates that "the Arab ministerial committee (headed by the prime minister of Qatar) will conduct consultations with the government and the various Syrian opposition parties aimed at launching a national dialogue."
The text does not specify a venue for the dialogue, a bone of contention between the government, which insists on Damascus, and the opposition which says it should be outside Syria.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was vital that Assad's regime now swiftly implement the agreement in full.
"He must implement the agreement as soon as possible as agreed," Ban told a news conference in Tripoli on his first visit to Libya since the eruption in February of the conflict which toppled veteran leader Moamer Gathafi.
"People have suffered to much for too long and it's an unacceptable situation," the UN chief said.
"Killing civilians must stop immediately in Syria."
Damascus had come under mounting pressure to agree to the Arab League peace plan, with Western governments calling for a renewed attempt to push through a sanctions resolution at the UN Security Council after a first bid was vetoed by China and Russia early last month.
On Sunday, China warned Syria that its crackdown on dissent "cannot continue" and that it must agree to open talks with the opposition.
"Syria has to show some flexibility in that regard in order to help the Arab League implement its proposal," China's Middle East envoy Wu Sike told reporters in Cairo.
Ahead of the Arab ministers' meeting, the opposition Syrian National Council had urged the League to "freeze Syria's membership, ensure the protection of civilians and recognise the SNC as the representative of the Syrian revolution."
The statement followed a similar call on Sunday by Facebook activists, after almost 100 people died on Friday and Saturday in the bloodiest two days of the uprising against Assad's regime.
More than 30 people were killed in violence on Wednesday, most of them security force personnel killed in clashes with troops who had mutinied rather than follow orders to shoot on civilians, a human rights group said.
Deserters killed 15 members of the security forces in two operations in the flashpoint central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"A group of deserters blew up a device as a military van and a vehicle passed by in Al-Madiq area, killing seven soldiers," the Britain-based watchdog said.
Eight other security personnel were killed in a similar attack on a convoy carrying security agents and pro-regime militiamen on the road between Qaalet al-Madiq and Sqailbiyeh, it added in a statement received in Nicosia.
The Observatory said the attacks were carried out "in response to the massacre of 11 workers" earlier in the day by a pro-regime group in Homs, another province in central Syria which has been a centre of dissent.
The gunmen stormed a factory in the restive province, killing the 11, while security forces shot dead eight civilians in several Homs neighbourhoods, the rights watchdog said.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly said it is fighting "armed terrorists" and Assad pledged to carry out reforms but stressed he will not make changes amid chaos.