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Syria Agrees to Arab League Plan

Correspondents* - IPS/Al Jazeera

DOHA, Qatar, Nov 2 2011 (IPS) - The Syrian government has accepted several measures suggested by the Arab League aimed at halting the violence in the country, including the removal of tanks and armoured vehicles from the streets.

The breakthrough was announced at an emergency meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, where the regional body gathered to discuss plans to ease the violence and end the unrest in Syria.

The breakthrough was announced at an emergency meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, where the regional body gathered to discuss plans to ease the violence and end the unrest in Syria.

“The Arab League welcomes the Syrian government’s agreement to the Arab plan,” a statement by the Arab League said.

It “emphasised the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan”.

Speaking after the meeting in the Egyptian capital, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, said: “We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately.”

He read out a statement saying Syria had agreed on several points, including a complete halt to violence, the release of prisoners, removing the military presence from cities and residential areas, and allowing the Arab League and media access to report on the situation.

He said the group would continue contacts between the Syrian government and the opposition “in preparation for a national dialogue within two weeks”.

‘Remarkable commitment’

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Cairo, said: “The Arab League secretary-general is calling this a paradigm shift in recent relations with Syria, which has huge concerns not just for Syria’s neighbours but for the entire Arab community.

“(The Arab League) essentially don’t have any guarantees, but what they do have is quite a remarkable commitment from Syria to adhere to several points of a ceasefire which it had previously resisted.”

Soon after the Cairo announcement, the U.S .administration repeated its call for Assad to step down.

“Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said. “We support all international efforts that are aimed toward convincing the regime to stop attacking its own people.”

Earlier in the day, Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. chief, demanded an immediate end to what he called the Syrian government’s crackdown on civilian protesters.

“Killing civilians must stop immediately in Syria,” he said in the Libyan capital Tripoli. “People have suffered too much for too long and it’s an unacceptable situation.”

Roadblock killings

Wednesday’s statements came as Syrian pro-democracy activists reported the deaths of at least 19 people in the country. These included 13 factory workers killed in a village northwest of Homs.

The victims were stopped at a roadblock, where they were shot by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the activists said.

“They were workers at a small building blocks factory,” Ahmad Fouad, a Homs-based activist, told the Reuters news agency by phone. “The exact time of their death is not known, but it appears it was this morning.”

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the reports of the killings.

An activist submitted a Youtube video, purportedly shot in the village of Kfar Laha, that showed several bodies, gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs.

Kfar Laha, in the Houla region, is considered a centre for protests against Assad’s government. The region is also home to an armed opposition movement.

The alleged killings of those opposed to the Syrian government follow online claims that nine members of Assad’s Alawite sect had been dragged from a bus and then shot by assailants in Homs province.

The claims were made by an activist out of Homs and on a social- networking site supportive of the Assad government.

Omar Idlibi, a prominent activist in exile in Beirut, told Reuters that the circumstances of Tuesday’s bus incident remained unclear. However, he did say that the shooting occurred near a main army roadblock in Homs.

It is suspected that Wednesday’s attack on the villagers was a revenge attack following the incident on Tuesday.

*Published under an agreement with Al-Jazeera.

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