Added by Nigel Shelbourne on December 19, 2011
Syria agreed to allow the Arab League to send observers into the country Monday, temporarily averting a threat by regional powers to refer Damascus to the UN Security Council.
Opposition groups immediately accused the regime of buying time, saying President Bashar al-Assad had no intention of honouring the deal.
After weeks of equivocation, the Syrian government formally signed a protocol permitting the deployment of 500 Arab League monitors tasked with overseeing the implementation of a peace plan meant to end months of deadly violence in the country. The Arab League said an advance mission would arrive in Damascus within 72 hours.
Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, hailed the beginning of a new era of “co-operation” between his government and the Arab League, but few observers believe the move will end the bloodshed.
Mr Assad has, on several occasions, promised to abide by the terms of the Arab League’s peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of all troops from the streets of Syrian cities and negotiations with the opposition.
But he has shown little appetite for implementing the terms of the deal, with Syria’s security forces accused of carrying out atrocities on a daily basis. More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the past month alone, bringing the overall civilian death toll since the beginning of the uprising in March to at least 5,000, according to the United Nations.
Mr Assad’s intransigence has angered the Arab League, which responded by suspending Syria’s membership and imposing economic sanctions.
The Assad regime had made several verbal promises to allow observers into Syria, only to create “unacceptable” obstacles to their deployment.
Yesterday’s climbdown came two days before the expiry of another Arab League deadline to accept the monitors. Qatar, which leads the bloc’s Syria monitoring group, had threatened to refer Damascus to the Security Council if it failed to comply, paving the way for possible UN sanctions against Assad’s government.
Russia and China have previously blocked Security Council resolutions on Syria, but an initiative backed by the Arab League was harder for them to resist, observers said.
“The Syrian regime is manoeuvring to try to prevent the Syrian file being submitted to the UN Security Council,” said Burhan Ghaliun, leader of the Syrian National Council. “This is just a ploy. They have no intention of implementing any initiative.” How much independent access the observers will be given to Syria’s most restive cities remains unclear.
While Mr Moallem promised they would be “free”, he insisted that they would operate “under the protection of the Syrian government”. He also predicted that the mission would vindicate the regime’s insistence that it was fighting a “terrorist” insurgency.
“There are many countries in the world [that] don’t wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria,” he said. “They will come and see that they are present. We must not be afraid at all.” In an effort to shore up its authority, the government organised a large loyalist demonstration in central Damascus.
Observers said there was little chance of Mr Assad ordering his troops off the streets, which is likely to lead to further mass demonstrations and increasing pressure on the president to resign.\n\n\nAt the same time, he is facing a growing armed rebellion, with army defectors clashing with the security forces and loyalist militiamen on an increasingly frequent basis.