Syrian government won’t leave despite Arab League suspension

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Monday that the government in Damascus would not budge despite its suspension from the Arab League, which he warned was a “dangerous step”.

“The decision of the Arab League to suspend Syria represents a dangerous step,” Muallem told a packed news conference in Damascus, slamming the decision as “shameful”.

“Today [Monday] there is a crisis in Syria which pays the price of its strong positions. Syria will not budge and will emerge stronger … and plots against Syria will fail,” said the minister.

Muallem said there was evidence of international interference well before Syria was suspended as well as a spike in operations by “armed groups” in the country.

He blamed this violence for delays in withdrawing troops from the streets as the Arab League had demanded prior to slapping Syria with the suspension.

“It is the responsibility of the state to protect civilians. This is natural. Likewise, it is the responsibility of the state to deal with armed groups operating outside the law.”

Premature decision
The Arab League deal to end bloodshed in Syria, which Damascus signed on November 2, called for the withdrawal of tanks from the streets, the release of political prisoners and talks with the opposition, among other measures.

Muallem criticised the speed with which the deal was declared a failure, blaming France and the US for the premature decision.

He also accused Washington of “encouraging acts of violence” when it urged opponents not to surrender in response to a regime offer for them to hand over their weapons in return for amnesty.

“We were puzzled and surprised by this foreign interference,” he said.

But Syria, despite the difficulties encountered, he said, had made great strides towards meeting the terms of the agreement, citing by way of example its decision to pardon 550 prisoners “as agreed with the Arab League”.

“We permitted the entry of 80 journalists to Syria” during Eid al-Adha, he added.

Muallem also slammed the Arab bloc for failing to propose and implement mechanisms that would help Syria abide the agreement and stop the bloodshed, such as monitoring the influx of funds and weapons to armed groups.

He criticised the League’s decision to impose sanctions on Syria but said the bloc still represented the “best avenue to get out of the crisis” because of shared objectives to end violence and bring reforms.

Muallem also said Syria was not concerned about the likelihood of foreign military intervention, due to the opposition of China and Russia, and the fact Europe was still paying for Nato’s air war in Libya.

“Syria is not Libya. The Libyan scenario will not be repeated; what is happening in Syria is different from what happened in Libya and the Syrian people should not worry,” he said.

Global praise
“I think that the position of Russia and China, which we thank them for … will not change,” said Muallem, also thanking India, South Africa Brazil and Lebanon for their positions in the Security Council.

His remarks came as the Arab League called a new meeting on Syria for Wednesday after voting to suspend the country’s membership, drawing global praise but triggering mob attacks on foreign embassies in Damascus.

Saturday’s vote to suspend Syria from the Arab League, by 18 of the bloc’s 22 members, triggered attacks by angry pro-regime mobs on the Damascus embassies of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

And Muallem apologised for the violence.

“I, as foreign minister, apologise for this matter,” Muallem told the news conference.

‘Beginning of the end’
Qatar and Saudi Arabia were among the countries that voted to suspend Syria from the Arab League.

But Muallem said he believed the Syrian crisis was coming to an end.

“I think that the crisis is reaching the beginning of the end,” he said, while issuing a call for dialogue with the opposition that also included representatives of the Syrian people.

“The programme of reform is clear,” he added in reference to a series of measures the regime has announced since the protests broke out, including promises of a new constitution for a multi-party political system.

Unprecedented protests
Western governments have repeatedly criticised Syria’s regime for failing to implement the reforms and for following the announcements up with even more bloodshed, prompting many to say Assad’s time is up.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has responded with lethal force in a bid to crush unprecedented protests against his rule that erupted in March.

The UN says more than 3 500 people have been killed in the crackdown and rights activists says attacks by security forces against civilians — especially in Homs — intensified last week. — AFP

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