Syria wants Arab League sanctions to be lifted as its price for allowing in observers to monitor the deadly violence that has gripped the country for nearly nine months, as international pressure grows.
The Cairo-based League was on Tuesday studying Syrian conditions that would allow monitors into the country, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime showed no let-up in its crackdown on dissent.
The 22-member pan-Arab body, which has also suspended Syria, has threatened Damascus with new sanctions if it fails to comply with the monitors plan.
Syria initially refused to sign an Arab proposal to send observers to keep check on its forces accused of rights violations by the United Nations.
But in a letter sent to the League late on Sunday as a League deadline was about to expire, Assad’s regime said it would accept monitors — but under certain conditions.
Damascus has demanded “minor modifications… and clarifications,” Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told reporters.
However, a letter from Foreign Minister Walid Muallem sent to the League and published in the Syrian press on Tuesday demanded the complete overturn of Arab League sanctions imposed on November 27.
“The government considers all decisions taken by the Arab League… including Syria’s suspension and the sanctions taken by the ministerial committee against it, to be null and void once Damascus signs the protocol” for observers, he said.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has confirmed the receipt of a letter from Damascus, saying it contained “new demands.”
“We’ve contacted Arab foreign ministers and they have been apprised of the Syrian letter,” Arabi said, adding that consultations were under way.
Away from the political arena, violence continued in a crackdown the United Nations says has killed more than 4,000 people since mid-March.
Syrian army deserters took on regular soldiers trying to assault Dael in the southern flashpoint province of Daraa, activists said, as Assad’s regime said it had foiled “terrorists” from entering from Turkey.
“There are fierce battles in Daraa between groups of deserters and the regular security forces trying to break into Dael and raid the town to make arrests,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also reported five civilians shot dead on Tuesday.
The official SANA news agency, meanwhile, said “terrorists” trying to infiltrate from neighbouring Turkey had been foiled. The rebel Free Syrian Army, made up of deserters, is based in Turkey.
“Border guards last night (Monday) thwarted an attempted infiltration by armed terrorist groups from Turkey” in the Ain Bayda sector of Idlib province in the northwest, it said, adding that an unspecified number were wounded.
Damascus blames “armed terrorist groups” for the unrest.
Meanwhile, Assad has spoken to ABC News, in an interview to be aired on Wednesday, in an attempt to defend his crackdown.
The US network said veteran personality Barbara Walters questioned him about a recent UN report that documented the killing and torture of civilians.
She also pressed him on his “violent crackdown on protesters, the impact of economic and travel sanctions against his country, calls for the president to step down and whether he will allow Arab League monitors and foreign press free and unrestricted access to Syria,” the network said.
The US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, was due back in Damascus later on Tuesday after leaving abruptly in October because of security threats.
“We expect the Syrian government to uphold its obligations to protect diplomatic personnel and facilities under the Vienna Convention and allow our Foreign Service officers to conduct their work free of intimidation or obstacles,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Paris’s ambassador, Eric Chevallier, returned on Monday after being recalled in mid-November following attacks on French diplomatic missions.
In Switzerland, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the need for a post-Assad Syria to protect the rights of minorities, ethnic groups and women.
“A democratic transition… means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect, or ethnicity or gender,” she told members of the opposition Syrian National Council.
Adding to tensions, Syria’s military staged manoeuvres on Sunday, with state media reporting they were part of efforts “to deter any enemy attack.”
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Syrian long-range missile tests detected by the Jewish state showed Assad was doomed.
“The Assad family is losing its grip and Bashar al-Assad is doomed to fall,” Barak said. “I don’t know if it will take weeks or months but there is no redemption for that family which today is slaughtering its own people.”
In addition to its suspension from the Arab League and sanctions, Syria has also been hit by a raft of EU and US sanctions.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, called the arrest of Syrian-American blogger Razan Ghazzawi at the border with Jordan on Sunday “another step backwards for the Syrian regime.”