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March 23, 2023

Syria rejects Arab League plan for Assad to step down

DAMASCUS – Syria has rejected an Arab League call for President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy, BBC reports. The league, meeting in Cairo, also called on Syria to form a national unity government with the opposition within two months.

A government official called the plan “flagrant interference” in Syria’s internal affairs, state TV said.

The UN says more than 5,000 people have died as a result of the crackdown on protests since they began last March. The league called on both sides to end the bloodshed.

The government in Damascus says it is fighting “terrorists and armed gangs” and claims that some 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

“Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs,” the unnamed Syrian official said. The official said the Arab League proposals were not in the interests of the Syrian people and would not prevent the country from “advancing its political reforms and bringing security and stability to its people who have shown, during this crisis, their support for national unity as they have rallied around President Assad”.

Saudi Arabia said it was pulling out of the league’s 165-strong monitoring mission in Syria because Damascus had broken promises on peace initiatives.

While the Arab League ministers said they were extending the controversial mission for another month, analysts say the Saudi decision has thrown its longer-term future into serious doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the key funders of the league’s projects, but the monitors have been criticised for failing to stop the violence.

The Arab League is now increasingly split about what could be done to resolve the Syrian crisis, the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Syria reports.

With the Syrians rejecting the conditions of the initiative, the Arab League’s roadmap is effectively in tatters, our correspondent says. At the Arab League meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal urged the international community to step in and put pressure on Damascus.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani read out a statement agreed by the ministers laying out an ambitious plan of political reform.

It called on President Assad to delegate power to one of his vice-presidents and to engage in proper dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, and form a government of national unity in two months.

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