Last updated: 28 November, 2011

Muallem: Arabs refuse to admit terrorists in Syria

Syria on Monday hit out at the Arab League for the treatment it has meted out to Damascus, accusing it of ignoring the presence of “terrorists” in the country and prematurely imposing economic sanctions.

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made the accusation at a news conference at which gruesome video footage was shown of what was described as a “mass grave of security force martyrs” that the authorities had discovered.

“I apologise for these horrific images, but at the same time I offer them to the Arab League ministerial committee members who still continue to refuse the presence of these armed groups,” said Muallem.

“The Arabs don’t want to admit the presence in Syria of groups of armed terrorists who are committing these crimes, abductions and attacks on public places.”

He told reporters that his government had opened all avenues in talks with the Arab League to end bloodshed in his country, but said that “they have closed all these windows” of opportunity which could have helped solve the crisis.

“Shame on them that they have reached this point,” he said of the foreign ministers who on Sunday voted the sanctions against Damascus

Muallem insisted that Syria can weather the sanctions and “will emerge stronger from this situation.”

“There is no fear whatsoever that our people will die of hunger or cold because we eat what we grow and clothe ourselves.

“Today we have a strategic surplus of wheat that can last for two years and we have a surplus of cotton,” he added.

And Muallem said that Syria had already taken steps to counter the punitive measures, imposed by the Cairo-based bloc over its crackdown on anti-regime protests.

“I reassure you that we have withdrawn 95 or 96 percent of Syrian assets (from Arab countries),” Muallem told reporters. “We must protect the interests of our people.”

The Arab League on Sunday voted sweeping sanctions against Damascus to punish the regime for failing to halt its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests — the first time the bloc enforces sanctions of this magnitude on one of its members.

The sanctions include an immediate ban on transactions with the Syrian government and central bank and a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries.

The Arab bloc also banned Syrian officials from visiting any Arab country and called for a suspension of all flights from Syria to Arab countries to be implemented on a date that will be fixed at a meeting next week.

“Stopping work with the central bank is like declaring an economic war. It is unprecedented,” Muallem said.

Syria, he said, did not lose its Arab friends. “They lost us because they are those who rode the wave of unrest in the Arab world and are being used to implement a scheme (fomented abroad) for all the countries in the region.”

Syria has repeatedly accused the US and other Western powers of interference.

Reacting to comments earlier Monday by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who said the days of the Syrian regime are numbered, Muallem said: “I say to him, live and see for yourself. If God grants him a long life.”

“Its days are numbered, that is obvious. It is totally isolated today,” Juppe told France Info radio, adding that the Arab sanctions will help “isolate the Syrian regime a bit more.”

But Muallem stressed that reforms pledged by President Bashar al-Assad to draw a new constitution that paves the way for a multi-party system and a national dialogue with the opposition will help end the crisis.

“The Arab League’s position is clear: They want a dialogue in Cairo, a national unity government… and this is rejected.

“But a real dialogue must lead to national reconciliation. If Russia wishes, we welcome it. We think that a dialogue is a solution to the crisis.”

Muallem also said that a provision, in the new constitution, stipulates that the ruling Baath Party, in power since 1963, will no longer be considered as “the leader of state and society.”

His comments came as tens of thousands of supporters of President Bashar al-Assad took to the streets to protest against the Arab League sanctions.