Feb
13

Syria rejects Arab League call for peacekeeping mission

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Bashar al-Assad’s government reportedly cites Arab proposal to curb unrest as a ‘flagrant interference’ in Syrian affairs

Syria has flatly rejected a call by the Arab League to deploy peacekeepers to end the country’s escalating conflict, while Britain has insisted that no western troops could be involved in such a mission.

Sana, Syria’s official news agency, has quoted an official source in Damascus as saying that Sunday’s Arab proposal constituted “flagrant interference” in the country’s internal affairs and was in breach of the league’s own charter. President Bashar al-Assad’s government blames the unprecedented crisis on an Arab-western conspiracy in support of “armed terrorist groups”.

Amid opposition reports of more government attacks and civilian casualties in Homs and elsewhere, the European Union said it also backed the Arab League idea. William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, signalled his support but made clear that western countries would not take part in any such mission. “I don’t see the way forward in Syria as being western boots on the ground in any form, including in any peacekeeping form,” he told reporters during a visit to Cape Town. “I think they would need to come from other countries, rather than western nations.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said: “We are studying this initiative and expect our friends from the Arab states to provide us with a clarification of certain points.” But a ceasefire would have to be in place before peacekeepers could be deployed, Lavrov insisted.

Opposition sources said 23 people were killed on Sunday, adding to a toll of over 300 since the latest assault on Homs, Syria’s third largest city, began on 3 February.

The recent decision by Russia and China to veto a UN security council resolution on Syria has left western and Arab diplomacy in disarray. It is clear that the US and EU want Arab states to take the lead in a new “Friends of Syria” group that is due to hold its first meeting in Tunisia on Friday. But there is no appetite for and little prospect of Libyan-style western-led military involvement in the crisis.

China’s foreign ministry has backed what it termed the Arab League’s “mediation” but offered no clear sign of support for its call for peacekeepers.

Syrian official media, meanwhile, gave prominence to a new draft constitution that has now been submitted to Assad, part of what he says are genuine reforms but which have been rejected as too little too late by opposition groups.

Hague’s comments conspicuously did not call on Assad to step down, as previous official UK statements have done – perhaps in recognition of the growing realisation that he is highly unlikely to do so.

Britain and the Arab League are both trying to encourage a more united opposition “that represents all of Syria’s communities” – words which mask particular concern about the need to reassure to reassure the president’s own Alawite minority in a post-Assad Syria.

Ian Black

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