Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Al-Assad’s signing of the protocol means nothing to us – Syrian National Council | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Following Syria’s long-awaited signing of the Arab League protocol yesterday, an advanced team preparing the way for Arab peace monitors is set to arrive in the country later this week. The 150 Arab monitors are expected to arrive in Syria by the end of December, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby announced “it’s a completely new mission…and it depends on implement in good faith”.

However the Free Syrian Army [FSA], which is led by Riad al-Assad, and the Syrian National Council [SNC], led by Burhan Ghalioun, have greeted the al-Assad regime’s signing of the Arab League protocol with suspicion and distrust, particularly as Damascus stalled signing the protocol for weeks, during which hundreds of protesters were killed at the hands of the Syrian security forces.

Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the SNC’s General Secretariat, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “communication and consultation has taken place in the coordination council which is made up of members of the SNC and FSA, and it has been agreed that the FSA will continue its mission to defend Syrian civilians if all the articles of the Arab proposal are not completely implemented on the ground, including the withdrawal of all [Syrian] armed and security forces and militia from the streets, and a complete halt of all violence against the protesters. However if this initiative is truly implemented…then the FSA will not need to carry out defense operations [to protect civilians].”

Whilst another senior SNC member, Dr. Wael Mirza, stressed that the FSA will not change its operations or mission, and will continue to defend Syrian civilians in accordance to the agreement between the FSA and the SNC. Mirza told Asharq Al-Awsat “the issue of the signing of the Arab protocol means nothing to us, and it will not have any influence on our operations on the ground, and the FSA will continue its defense operations.”

He added “the issue is about the implementation [of the protocol] not its signing, and whether the military and the Shabiha [militia] withdraw from the streets and return to the barracks [as called for by the initiative].”

As for reports that a proposal was put forward during the SNC conference in Tunis which included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being allowed to leave the country to a destination of his choosing with full immunity, whilst the Syrian military would “freeze” its operations and announce its “neutrality” in the “internal political struggle.”, Dr. Mirza stressed “no national army can be asked to freeze its operations or sit on the fence in a situation like this….however we ask the Syrian army to follow the example of the FSA and defend the civilians and protesters.”

For his part, SNC member Adib Shihakli confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat FSA operations to protect peaceful Syrians protesters will continue. He said “the SNC has recognized the legitimacy of the FSA, whose legitimacy is also derived from the Syrians and the protesters. Even if the Arab protocol is implemented on the ground, and monitors enter Syria, they will do so with the continued presence of the FSA and its members on the ground.”

Whilst SNC Chairman, Burhan Ghalioun, speaking during a press conference held following the end of a weekend summit that brought many of the SNC’s 260 members together in Tunis, said “we’re surprised that the Arab League has given the regime opportunity after opportunity…we want the Arab League to take a stronger stance.” He added “we urge the Arab League and the United Nations to defend Syrians by establishing isolated and secure areas inside Syria…we need to use force – even in a limited way – or for Arab protection forces to respond.”