At Summit, Arabs Press Syria but Lack Unity (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By SAM DAGHER in Baghdad and MARIA ABI-HABIB in Beirut 03/29/12)
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Arab officials on Wednesday urged the Syrian regime to implement a
U.N.-backed peace plan to end violence in the country, a call that
appeared to be undercut by internal disagreements among Arab states
as well as by further skepticism over Syria´s commitment to any plan.
Gathering in Baghdad ahead of the Arab League´s first summit in two
years, officials said Syria should enact a cease-fire and five other
points contained in an international peace plan that it agreed
Tuesday it would accept.
But regional foreign ministers and other officials stepped back from
their previous calls that President Bashar al-Assad cede power. Two
countries pressing hardest for Mr. Assad´s ouster—Qatar and Saudi
Arabia—didn´t send senior representatives to the summit, underscoring
the divisions that have so far worked to the Syrian regime´s
In Syria, pro-regime forces continued assaults on rebel strongholds.
Saraqeb, in the northeast, bore the brunt of the day´s violence with
16 killed, bringing to at least 40 the number of dead since the start
of a government assault there on Sunday, according to Avaaz, an
activist organization. Bodies were strewn in the town´s streets,
sections of the town were destroyed and most residents were fleeing
to neighboring areas, said the Local Coordination Committees, an
In previous stages of Syria´s conflict, which the United Nations says
has now claimed more than 9,000 lives, President Assad has promised
political reforms and accepted a mission of Arab League observers,
moves that brought no apparent letup in regime attacks on opponents.
The latest plan, presented by Arab League-U.N. envoy Kofi Annan,
calls for an immediate daily two-hour humanitarian cease-fire, as
well as a U.N.-supervised cessation of violence, unhindered access
for journalists and a Syrian-led political process to address
The U.S. on Wednesday cast doubt on Damascus´s willingness to follow
through. "We´ve heard promises from the Assad regime before," said
White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "We will judge the Assad regime
on their actions."
Syria´s Local Coordination Committee said the U.N.-backed plan "will
meet a fate no better" than previous initiatives. "This plan buys the
regime more time to assassinate more activists. The international
community has failed to assume its moral and legal responsibilities
to the Syrian people," the LCC said in a statement.
On Thursday in Baghdad, Arab League officials are expected to
formally endorse the recommendations that Syria enact the Annan plan,
including them in a final declaration by Arab heads of state.
Syria, for its part, appeared to pre-emptively reject any league
resolution. Following the Arab League´s move to suspend Syria´s
membership last year, Syria "won´t deal with any Arab League
initiative at any level in its absence," foreign ministry spokesman
Jihad Makdissi said in comments carried by the state news agency.
The league´s annual summit—suspended last year amid Arab Spring
uprisings—marks a coming-out for Baghdad, which hadn´t held such an
event in close to a quarter-century. But it also highlighted the
sectarian divide that bedevils Iraq and has likewise placed regional
powers on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which sent lower-level
delegations to Baghdad, have called for Mr. Assad´s ouster. Mr.
Assad, who is from a Shiite-aligned sect, is backed by Iran, the
regional center of Shiite Islam. These alliances colored proceedings
in Baghdad, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki´s Shiite-dominated
coalition government has attempted to balance his country´s desire
for better ties with Sunni-led Arab states with the influence and
reach of its powerful neighbor Iran. The Syrian opposition has
accused Mr. Maliki´s government of aiding Damascus, a charge he has
Mr. Maliki called on Arab states to refrain from interfering in each
other´s internal affairs, likening meddling to "a plague that has
befallen our nations."
In a news conference after Wednesday´s meeting, Iraq´s Foreign
Minister Hoshyar Zebari said officials at the summit will spell out
what he described as "doable action" toward a political transition in
Damascus. He said differences among Arab states over how to stop the
bloodshed and suffering in Syria have taken the matter out of these
"We have tried to find the Arab solution through collaborative
efforts but we failed," said Mr. Zebari. "The situation has gone out
of the Arab framework," leaving the countries no choice but to
endorse Mr. Annan´s six-point proposal.
Mr. Zebari also signaled that Iraq, which takes over the Arab
League´s rotating presidency, will put forward a proposal that calls
on the regime to begin dialogue with all stripes of the Syrian
opposition including the armed groups.
In opening remarks, the foreign minister of Libya—whose own uprising
earlier this year came with some degree of international support, as
well as backing of Qatar and other Gulf states—urged a harder line on
"What we are witnessing everyday and all across Syria is genocide,"
said the Libyan minister Ashour Bin al-Khayal urging "decisive"
action in Syria akin to the North Atlantic Organization Treaty
military campaign in his own country last year. —Nour Malas and Ali
A. Nabhan contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones &
Company, Inc.) 03/29/12)
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