CAIRO, (Reuters) – Syria agreed on Monday to let Arab League observers into the country to monitor implementation of a deal it agreed last month to pull troops from protest-hit towns, free political prisoners and start talking to dissidents.
However, the executive head of the League said after the signing of a protocol on foreign observers that there was no immediate plan to lift sanctions that were imposed when Damascus at first refused outside monitors. Nabil Elaraby said observers would now determine whether Syria’s government was complying.
“The protocol is a mechanism to go to Syria and move freely to ensure the implementation of the Arab initiative on Syria. What counts is good faith in implementation,” Elaraby, the Arab League secretary-general, said. An advance party would head to Syria this week to prepare for the arrival of monitors.
President Bashar al-Assad’s administration broadly agreed last month to the Arab League peace initiative aimed at defusing a violent confrontation that has left more than 5,000 dead.
But a refusal to let in outside observers had prompted other Arab states to impose sanctions. And Assad’s opponents have complained that troops are still present in some cities, fighting with Assad’s opponents, while other elements of the peace accord have also not been implemented in full.
Speaking of lifting the Arab League sanctions, Elaraby told a news conference after the signing in Cairo: “This has not happened, as that would require another meeting.”
He also said a meeting of Arab foreign ministers planned this week, and which had been due to discuss action against Damascus, would be “indefinitely postponed.”
The protocol on monitors was signed by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, after Damascus had previous called for amendments to the plan.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at the forefront of efforts to press Syria to sign. Elaraby said others also helped.
“Some countries played a helping hand in signing the protocol including Russia,” Elaraby said.
He added that an advanced team led by a top Arab League official would head to Syria in two or three days to prepare for the arrival of the monitors.
“We now have about 100 names including representatives of non-governmental organizations and governments,” he said, adding that media representatives and members of security forces would be included.
Armed resistance has emerged in the last two months in Syria, alongside a peaceful protest movement that began in March inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
Loyalist forces, including a pro-Assad militia, have reportedly suffered scores of casualties in the last few weeks, especially in the northwestern province of Idlib near Turkey and in the central region of Homs.