Arab League awaits Syria response to plan

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Syria was poised to respond Tuesday to an Arab proposal to end violence between regime forces and protesters, diplomats said, a day before Arab foreign ministers are to hold a key meeting to discuss the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists reported that five more people were killed in the protests-wracked country and dozens arrested, including 60 schoolchildren detained for holding an anti-regime rally in their school yard.

On Sunday, an Arab task force headed by Qatar met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and submitted a proposal calling on President Bashar al-Assad to pull tanks off the streets and begin talks with his opponents.

Syria was due to give its response to the plan on Monday but Muallem asked for some changes and a reply is expected on Tuesday.

Algerian Foreign Minister Murad Medelci sounded upbeat.

"We had a good meeting in Doha and we have found some common group with our Syrian friends. I hope this will be confirmed in Cairo," he said.

And an Arab League diplomat told AFP "there has been agreement on some minor amendments, but the Arab delegation demanded a final response on Tuesday to the Arab proposal."

He said Syria would inform Qatar of its response.

Syria's Arab League representative Yusef Ahmed told AFP his government would respond to the plan on Tuesday and added: "We are dealing positively with the last proposal, which was drafted (at Sunday's meeting) in Qatar."

Syrian daily Al-Watan reported that "Muallem provided the Qatari side with ideas adequate to resolve the crisis in Syria ... and requested additional time to consult with his leadership."

After returning to Damascus from Doha on Monday, Muallem held talks with the Syrian leadership about the Arab roadmap, said Al-Watan, which is close to the government.

Arab foreign ministers are due to meet Wednesday regardless of Syria's decision, with some diplomats concerned that the response from Damascus will be tied to conditions to gain time.

"Syria's answer could be 'yes, but,' a manoeuvre to buy time," said one diplomat who attended the Doha talks.

As pressure increased on Assad to end the bloodletting, which the UN says has claimed more than 3,000 lives since mid-March, activists said five more people were killed on Tuesday and dozens arrested.

Two civilians were killed when pro-regime militiamen opened fire in central Homs and one was shot by security forces in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An officer and a soldier were also killed in Idlib by gunmen believed to be army deserters, the watchdog said, adding that an 18-year-old man also died on Tuesday of gunshot wounds from the previous day near Damascus.

Syrian security forces also rounded up dozens of civilians in Daraa -- cradle of the anti-regime protests that erupted March 15 -- and detained 60 pupils who rallied in their school yard against the regime, the watchdog said.

Pro- and anti-regime demonstrations also gripped Deir Ezzor on Tuesday, with state television reporting that thousands rallied in support of Assad while activists spoke of a counter-rally in the eastern city.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, reiterated Moscow's opposition to any Libya-style military intervention in Syria.

"If it depends on us, I don't think we will allow anything of that sort to be repeated" in Syria, Lavrov said in Abu Dhabi.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan echoed him.

"We do not think that there is any party which is willing to internationalise this matter. At least we Arabs don't," he said.

China, along with Russia, vetoed a Western-drafted resolution at the UN Security Council on October 4 that would have threatened Assad's regime with targeted sanctions if it continued its campaign against protesters.

Last week activists urged the international community to impose a Libya-style no-fly zone on Syria.

Meanwhile the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said it fears for several journalists and bloggers in Syria who have vanished, with no response from authorities as to their fate.

© 2011 AFP

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