Arab League submits plan on Syria crisis

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DOHA: An Arab League committee has submitted a plan to end the bloodshed in Syria and a response from Damascus was expected Monday, Qatar’s foreign minister said.

There were no details on what the plan entailed, but the announcement comes amid intensified efforts by the 22-nation body toward resolving the deadly seven-month confrontation between the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and protesters demanding his overthrow.

The Arab League panel held a "clear and frank" meeting with a Syrian delegation in Qatar on Sunday, said Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim.

The meeting was convened to address growing concerns among regional leaders that the brutal crackdown on Syrian protesters calling for Al-Assad’s resignation could further inflame the Arab world, already reeling from unprecedented uprisings that have since January unseated three long-time dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

"The entire region is at risk of a massive storm," said Sheikh Hamad after more than three hours of talks between the foreign ministers and their Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.

"What is required of Syria … are concrete steps that could avoid what happened to other countries," he said, in an apparent reference to NATO’s military intervention in the popular uprising against dictator Moammar Qaddafi.

An Arab diplomat in the league headquarters in Egypt meanwhile said the Arab League will hold an extraordinary session to discuss the unrest-torn nation on Wednesday. The ministers will receive a report on the mission to Syria and a "plan of action," said the official, who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The uprising against Assad began in mid-March during a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The UN says that Assad’s crackdown has left more than 3,000 people dead.

While the specifics of the proposal were unknown, the opposition’s stance on dialogue with the regime is mixed. Some influential figures in the opposition have refused to talk to the Assad regime while the military crackdown continues; others see dialogue as a way out of the crisis.

In an interview published Sunday, Al-Assad warned the Middle East will burn if the West intervenes in his country’s 7-month-old uprising, threatening to turn the region into "tens of Afghanistans."

Al-Assad’s comments to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph were his harshest so far regarding the potential for foreign intervention. But they belie a growing concern over the possibility of some sort of Western military action after months of NATO airstrikes helped rebellious Libyans oust Qaddafi.

"Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake," Al-Assad said. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?"

Still the US and its allies have shown little appetite for intervening in another Arab nation in turmoil, and Syrian opposition leaders have not called for an armed uprising like the one in Libya and have for the most part opposed foreign intervention.

China, which together with Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria earlier this month, expressed support for the Arab mediation effort.

Its Middle East envoy Wu Sike said in Cairo he had told Assad in Damascus on Thursday that his regime’s deadly crackdown on dissent "cannot continue."

The Doha talks came as Syrian activists put mounting pressure on the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership of the 22-member bloc. Activists across Syria organized protests on Sunday calling for the League to "freeze the membership" of Syria.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria continues to rise with at least seven people killed in violence on Sunday in several cities including Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, the National Organization for Human Rights said in a statement.

Almost 100 people were killed in Syria on Friday and Saturday, the two bloodiest days yet of the uprising, among them 30 Syrian security agents and dozens of civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based rights watchdog.


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