| 20.12,11. 03:22 AM |
Syria Agrees to Arab Protocol, Says Deal Doesn't 'Infringe Sovereignty'
Syria finally gave its agreement Monday to an Arab observer mission to monitor a deal to end nine months of bloodshed, ending weeks of prevarication that had prompted the Arab League to adopt sanctions.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad and Arab League Assistant Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli inked the document at League headquarters in Cairo, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.
Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that Syria had only signed up to the deal after making sure it did not infringe its sovereignty.
He said the deal was an initial period of one month, renewable with the agreement of both sides.
"Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers' mission from the Arab League," he said.
"Sovereignty is protected in the text of the protocol," he added.
"Article 8 of the Arab League charter protects existing structures and bans countries from interfering... In this protocol we are talking about protecting civilians from terrorist groups."
Syria has consistently rejected the view of Western governments and human rights groups that the protests in the country have been overwhelmingly peaceful, insisting that they are the work of armed groups.
Muallem said that he expected the observer mission to vindicate the regime's position that the government has been battling an armed rebellion.
"There are many countries in the world who 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."
The foreign minister said that Syria's Cold War ally Russia, which in October used its Security Council veto to block a resolution that would have threatened "targeted measures" against regime figures, had backed the observer mission.
"Russia's position is clear, they advised Syria to sign the protocol and we implemented that," he said.
He insisted that the regime was sincere in its promises of reform.
"We want to emerge from this crisis and build a safe, modern Syria, a Syria that will be a model of democracy." he said.
"We want a political solution to this crisis in order to emerge from it in the best way possible."
The 22-member Arab bloc had been trying to persuade Damascus to accept the observer mission for weeks.
Under the terms of the deal that the observers are intended to oversee, Syrian security forces are required to pull back from the towns and villages that have been at the center of nine straight months of protests and open negotiations with the opposition under League auspices.
On November 27, the bloc approved a raft of sanctions against Syria for failing to heed an ultimatum to admit the observers, including suspension from its meetings.
Earlier this month, Syria finally said it would allow in the mission, but laid down a number of conditions, including the lifting of sanctions.