Last updated: 20 November, 2011

Syria hits out at Arab states trying to reach UN

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Sunday dismissed as “wishful thinking” a warning by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that his country risked descending into civil war.

“Whoever reads carefully remarks made by Mrs Clinton and Mr Ahmet Davutoglu and others feels that they are pushing for that (civil war),” Muallem told a news conference in Damascus.

“When Mrs Clinton says the opposition is well-armed … it is, as they say in English, ‘wishful thinking’,” he said.

Clinton and her Turkish counterpart Davutoglu have warned of a real risk of civil war in Syria following an attack Wednesday on an intelligence military base by mutinous troops calling themselves the Free Syria Army.

Muallem also dismissed as “totally unfounded” reports that the offices of the ruling Baath party in Damascus had been hit by several rocket-propelled grenades on Sunday.

The reports came from rights groups and activists, but an AFP reporter who went to the area found no trace of an attack while local residents denied there had been explosions.

The minister also slammed some members of the Arab League which he accused of working towards having the Syria issue referred to the UN Security Council.

“There is no room for hasty decisions, but rational thinking is needed because there are some parts of the Arab world which are using the Arab League as a tool to reach the Security Council,” he said.

The Arab League said Sunday that its foreign ministers would hold crisis talks on Syria in Cairo next Thursday, after rejecting changes proposed by Damascus to its proposal to send an observer mission to the country.

Muallem said he would continue talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on the observer mission, but insisted the Arab proposals were “unbalanced” and undermined Syrian sovereignty.

The document, he said, “totally ignores the Syrian state, even coordination with the Syrian state. Without cooperation with the Syrian state how can a delegation come and travel about as it wishes?”

Muallem also brushed off an Arab League threat of sanctions after the expiry of a deadline on Saturday night for Damascus to honour an agreement with the 22-nation bloc to end the bloodshed.

“We in Syria do not consider that the deadline is the important issue. The content is the important issue, and to reach an agreement with the Arab League is what counts.

“We will seek every window of opportunity (to work with the Arab League) until the Arabs tell us we dont want you in the Arab League,” he said.

His remarks came as at least 20 more people were reported to have been killed at the weekend, adding to the UN figure of the more than 3,500 deaths since mid-March in the Syrian crackdown on protests.

Asked to elaborate on comments by President Bashar al-Assad published on Sunday that he was ready to fight and die for Syria, Muallem said: “If the battle is imposed on us, we will fight.

“We hope it will not be imposed on us… the problem in Syria can only be solved by the Syrians themselves.”