Sunday, October 16, 2011

Arab League calls for Syria dialogue within 15 days

Syria's Ambassador in Cairo Yousef Ahmad attends a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers to discuss Syria at the League headquarters in Cairo October 16, 2011. Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Yousef Ahmad, accused foreign states of arming protesters
The Arab League has called for talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces to take place within 15 days, following months of unrest.

At an emergency meeting in Egypt, Arab foreign ministers decided not to suspend Syria from the organisation.

Damascus expressed reservations about the plan, which proposes the two sides meet for talks at the League's headquarters in Cairo.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting has continued in several areas of Syria.

Activists said Syrian security forces have launched a new offensive on Zabadani, a town near the Lebanese border, while clashes were also reported in the provinces of Homs and Idlib.
The unrest has killed at least 3,000 people, mostly unarmed protesters, since demonstrations broke out in March against President Bashar al-Assad.

Damascus has faced mounting international pressure over the crackdown.

'Clear differences'
In Cairo, Arab foreign ministers met for an initial three-hour session without Syria's representative, before later holding talks with Syrian diplomats that lasted late into the night.
Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the chair of the meeting, announced that the League had decided to make contact with the Syrian government and oppposition in order to bring about "national dialogue within the seat of the Arab League and under its guidance within 15 days."

The Arab League resolution was endorsed by all the member states, although Syria expressed reservations.

Some delegates had called for Syria to be suspended from the Arab League - a move which would require the backing of two thirds of the members.

The BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says that it is clear that differences remain between Arab countries on how to handle this crisis.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria due to the protest crackdown.

Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Yousef Ahmad, alleged that protesters were getting weapons from Israel.

"The Syrian opposition is also getting logistical support from Arab countries," he told the League, according to AP news agency.

Syria, who blames the unrest on armed gangs and "terrorists", regularly blames outside forces for being behind the violence - a claim denied by the opposition.
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