Syria accepts Arab peace plan
Syria on Wednesday fully accepted an Arab League plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed, a League official said, but Washington said President Bashar al-Assad still had to go.
Assad's regime had come under huge pressure from fellow Arab states to sign up to the deal brokered by the pan-Arab bloc to end its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests to avoid the internationalisation of the crisis.
Under the hard-won deal announced at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo after months of prevarication by Damascus, the regime agreed to a complete halt to violence against civilians and to consultations by Arab mediators aimed at opening up a dialogue with the opposition.
"The Syrian delegation accepted the Arab League plan without reservations and in its entirety," the League official said.
The blueprint, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, provides for a "complete halt to the violence to protect civilians."
But Syrian troops killed three people in the flashpoint central city of Homs yesterday, a human rights group said, just a day after the pledge.
And more than 30 people were killed in violence on Wednesday, almost half of them security force personnel killed in clashes with troops who had mutinied rather than follow orders to shoot on civilians, a human rights group said.
The White House downplayed the deal and said the only way forward was for Assad to quit.
"Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"We support all international efforts that are aimed towards convincing the regime to stop attacking its own people and perpetrating violence against its own people. But our position on Assad has not changed."
Activists called for mass demonstrations to test the genuineness of the government's commitment to the peace blueprint yesterday, voicing scepticism about its readiness to rein in a crackdown that the UN says has cost more than 3,000 lives since mid-March.
It also calls for the "release of people detained as a result of the recent events, the withdrawal of forces from towns and districts where there have been armed clashes, and the granting of access to the Arab League, and Arab and international media."
It stipulates that "the Arab ministerial committee (headed by the prime minister of Qatar) will conduct consultations with the government and the various Syrian opposition parties aimed at launching a national dialogue."
The text does not specify a venue for the dialogue, a bone of contention between the government, which insists on Damascus, and the opposition which says it should be outside Syria.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was vital that Assad's regime now swiftly implement the agreement in full.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said "if Syria does not respect its commitments, the ministerial committee will meet again and take the necessary decisions."
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the main aim was "to provide an Arab solution which sends a clear message to the Syrian people of qualitative progress towards halting all forms of violence."
Main points of Arab League Plan for Syria
* Complete halt to the violence, whatever its origin, to protect civilians.
* Release of people detained.
* Withdrawal of every type of military.
* Free movement for international bodies and media in Syria.
The plan does not stipulate the exact date for the military withdrawal nor when the two-week period should begin. The Arab League has suggested that initially the talks take place in Cairo.