Arabs, UN push Syria to act on peace plan

Arabs, UN push Syria to act on peace plan

Mortar attack witnessed near Iranian embassy during summit

Arab leaders on Thursday urged a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria at a landmark summit in Baghdad, marred by stayaways and a mortar attack near the Iranian embassy as the meeting opened.

Only nine visiting leaders of the 22-member “Arab League” turned up for the summit, the first to be held in the Iraqi capital in more than 20 years. Syria, which has been suspended from the pan-Arab body, was not invited. The meeting was kicked off by UN chief Ban Ki-moon who called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to move swiftly to implement a peace plan crafted by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

But reflecting the rift between Arab countries on steps they believe should be taken to end the bloodletting in Syria, officials said a final summit statement would not call on Assad to quit nor consider arming the rebels against him as some states have demanded.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two states seeking the most aggressive measures on Damascus, only sent envoys to Baghdad.

Qatar explained its decision as being designed to send a “message” to the host, Iraq, which has taken a softer position than most other League members on its neighbour and trading partner.
Even as the summit got underway, Syrian security forces assailed rebel strongholds across the country, a day after Assad’s regime made clear it would not abide by any Arab League initiatives. At least 23 people were killed in clashes in Syria on Thursday, monitors said.While regional officials wanted to tackle a wide variety of issues, ranging from the Arab-Israel conflict to jumpstarting the bloc’s economies, the summit was firmly focused on Syria, where monitors say nearly 10,000 people have died in a year-long revolt against Assad’s rule.

In his speech opening the summit, Ban called for Syrian authorities to implement Annan's peace plan and for an end to violence ravaging the country. He added: “The conflict in Syria is on a dangerous trajectory with potential ramifications for the entire region.”

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah called on Damascus to “listen to the language of reason and wisdom and end all sorts of violence against its people,” saying that “prolonging the crisis in Syria will only make it more complicated.” Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, meanwhile, said that while his country was against military intervention in Syria, Damascus was only interested in “extending the conflict” so Assad's regime could “negotiate ... from a position of strength.”