Syria accepts Arab League’s call to halt crackdown on protesters

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CAIRO — Syria accepted an Arab League proposal calling for it to withdraw armored vehicles from the streets and stop violence against protesters in a bid to end the country’s seven-month-old political crisis that has led to the deaths of some 3,000 people.

The agreement was announced by Qatar’s Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, who urged Damascus to follow through with action on the ground.

Syria has continued its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters despite international condemnation and previous promises of reform.

In the latest violence, machine-gun fire and explosions erupted inside a city at the heart of Syria’s uprising as activists reported two grisly attacks that killed at least 20 people in the past 24 hours, although it was not clear who was behind the latest attacks.

Syria agreed to withdraw all tanks and armored vehicles from the streets, stop violence against protesters, release all political prisoners arrested during the uprising and begin a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, according to the proposal.

Syria also agreed to allow journalists, rights groups and Arab League representatives to monitor the situation in the country. All have been banned from entering by one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes.

“We are happy to have reached the agreement and we’ll be happier if it is carried out,” Mr. bin Jassim said. “Now it is important for the Syrian side to carry out this agreement because it is what will allow the situation to quiet down and the crisis to be resolved.”

“We hope that there will be serious follow-through, whether regarding violence and killing or regarding prisoners,” he said.

Arab nations have been eager to avoid a repeat of the civil war in Libya that led to the capture and brutal treatment of Moammar Gadhafi before he was killed.

In the proposal, the Arab League said it sought to prevent foreign intervention in Syria - a marked difference from Libya in which an Arab League decision helped pave the way for a NATO bombing campaign.

It remains unclear if the agreement will make a difference on the ground. The agreement did not list consequences should Syria continue its crackdown. Nor did the proposal say where the dialogue between authorities and the opposition is to take place.

Arab diplomats involved in the process said they had suggested Cairo, while Syria insisted that all dialogue take place in the capital, Damascus.

Syria’s opposition has refused to enter into any dialogue as long as President Bashar Assad remains in power.

The proposal was presented by a council of Arab foreign ministers. Notably, Syrian Foreign Minster Walid al-Moallem did not attend the meeting. Instead, Syria’s ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League, Youssef Ahmed, delivered Syria’s response.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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