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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)Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304177104577309712747826968.html?mod=WSJ_World_MIDDLENews WALL STREET JOURNAL WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 advantage.

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 activist network.

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 citizens´ concerns.

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 denied.

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 countries´ hands.

"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 Syria.

"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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