DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria has “responded positively” to an Arab League request to send observers to the country as part of a peace plan to end the nation’s eight-month crisis, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.
But there appeared to be serious stumbling blocks. Syria demanded that after the protocol is signed, the Arab League immediately cancel recent decisions taken against Damascus, including economic sanctions and suspending the country from the League.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby swiftly rebuffed Damascus’ demand, telling reporters in Cairo that Syria’s agreeing to sign the deal will not lead to the immediate lifting of sanctions.
“These sanctions are in force until another decision is adopted by the Arab foreign ministers,” he said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem sent a letter Sunday to Elaraby in which he “responded positively” to the League’s peace plan, ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said. He added that al-Moallem’s message combined some “minor amendments that won’t affect the essence of the plan.”
But Elaraby said al-Moallem’s letter “contains new components which we have not heard of earlier.”
He said the new Syrian conditions and demands are being “discussed now with the Arab foreign ministers” and that nothing has been decided yet.
The observers mission would involve an initial team of 30-50 members under the auspices of the Arab League to ensure that Syria is following the Arab plan, calling for the regime to halt its attacks on protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.
Syria’s failure to meet a Nov. 25 deadline to allow in observers drew Arab League sanctions, including a ban on dealings with the country’s central bank and a freeze on government assets.
The bloc also imposed a travel ban on 19 Syrian officials, including Assad’s younger brother Maher, who is believed to be in command of much of the crackdown, as well as Cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs and security officers. The list does not include the president himself.
Together with sanctions from the United States, the European Union and Turkey, the Arab League’s penalties are expected to inflict significant damage on Syria’s economy and may undercut the regime’s authority.
Damascus remains defiant, however, and has shown few signs of easing its crackdown, which the U.N. says has killed more than 4,000 people since mid-March. Activists said security forces killed at least seven people Monday, most of them in the restive central province of Homs.
Over the weekend, the military conducted exercises meant to test “the capabilities and the readiness of missile systems to respond to any possible aggression,” state-run TV said.