Arab League plans Syria peace initiative

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DAMASCUS: The Arab League on Sunday announced a peace initiative aimed at solving the crisis in Syria as more people were killed by government forces and activists called for prayers for the "martyrs."

Arab League chief Nabil Al-Araby would head to Damascus bearing "an initiative to solve the crisis," a statement said early on Sunday after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.

It was unclear when Al-Araby would visit Damascus, but Russia also announced it was sending a top envoy to the Syrian capital on Monday, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

President Abdullah Gul of neighboring Turkey, whose once flourishing ties with Damascus were soured by the government crackdown on anti-regime protests, said Ankara has now lost confidence in the Syrian regime.

"Actually (the situation in Syria) reached a level that everything is too little, too late. We lost our confidence," Gul told Anatolia news agency of unfulfilled promises President Bashar Al-Assad made to halt the onslaught.

"Today in the world there is no place for authoritarian administrations, one-party rule, closed regimes. Those either will be replaced by force, or the governors of states will take the initiative to administer," Gul said.

"Everyone should know that we are with the Syrian people … What is fundamental is the people," he said.

Meanwhile the Syrian authorities, in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency, warned protesters to stay away from demonstrations in the capital being urged on Facebook.

"The interior ministry asks citizens not to respond to calls on social networks to take part in demonstrations and gatherings in the principal squares of Damascus, for their own safety," it said.

The Syrian Revolution 2011, a key driver of the protests, meanwhile called for prayers on Sunday "in churches and in mosques for the martyrs of freedom," in a message on Facebook.

The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have been killed since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

The latest bloodletting claimed two lives in Syria on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

It said one demonstrator was killed and 10 were hurt when club-wielding security forces attacked people leaving prayers at the Rifai mosque in the capital’s western quarter of Kafar Susseh. The mosque’s imam, Osama al-Rifai, was among the injured.

The Local Coordination Committees, which groups activists on the ground, confirmed the fatality, but said 12 people had been injured.

Separately, the Observatory said one person was killed and five were wounded in Kafar Nabel in Idlib province of northwest Syria, where late on Saturday "dozens" of people were arrested.

SANA reported that "gunmen" killed a traffic policeman on Saturday in the flashpoint central city of Homs.

Demonstrations were also reported Saturday in the northern Damascus quarter of Roukn Edinne and in Zabadani, 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the capital, the Observatory said.

On the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, security forces killed at least seven people as they fired on protesters rallying in their tens of thousands across Syria, vowing to bring down the regime.

The unrelenting violence and bloodshed prompted Arab League foreign ministers to meet late on Saturday.

Al-Araby will now visit Damascus bearing "an initiative to solve the crisis," the league statement said.

The ministers "asked the secretary general of the Arab League to carry out an urgent mission to Damascus and transmit the Arab initiative to resolve the crisis to the Syrian leadership," it said.

The ministers also called for the bloodshed in Syria to end "before it is too late" and for "respecting the right of the Syrian people to live in security and respecting their legitimate aspirations for political and social reforms."

Russia also planned an initiative.

"A very important envoy from Moscow" will visit Damascus on Monday, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.

Russia staunchly opposes bids by the United States and European powers to push for a UN Security Council resolution targeting Assad, and has offered a counter-resolution.

The Russian text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, urges Syria to expedite reforms.
Key Syrian ally Iran has also urged Assad’s government to listen to the people’s demands.

"The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on Saturday.


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