Damascus sells peace but opposition isn’t buying

Pro-democracy protesters, holding a huge pre-Baath era Syrian flag (AFP Photo / MOHAMMED HOSSAM)
The Syrian government has agreed to an Arab League peace plan to end almost eight months of unrest that has left scores dead. However, with the opposition against any initiative that would leave Assad in power, the country remains as divided as ever.

­Arab league leaders meeting in Cairo have reached a deal that could see an end of the violent uprising against President Assad that has gripped the country since March.

Under the agreement, Syria will initiate a complete cessation of violence, withdraw the large military presence from urban areas, release prisoners, hold talks with the opposition and lift the tight media restrictions which are currently in place.  

Speaking at a news conference, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani expressed the Arab’s Leagues support for the plan and the need for immediate action.   

"The Arab League welcomes the Syrian government's agreement to the Arab plan and emphasizes the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan," as cited by ABC news.  

However, the Syrian opposition rejected the peace plan on Thursday, saying that nothing short of an overthrow of the existing regime would prompt them to enter talks with the government.  

Their decision to reject the plan comes amid Syrian activists’ claims that tanks mounted with machine guns have opened fire in the city of Homs.

According to activists, security forces have shot some 20 civilians in the city and surrounding villages since Tuesday.  

Similar reports have generated serious doubts both within Syria and throughout the international community that the Arab League initiative can bring an end to violence in the country.  

For many in the opposition, Assad is merely trying to buy time with the latest promises of peace.  The opposition also claims the Arab league plan has failed to take into account the will of the people.  

“The Syrian people have decided: the regime must go. So there can be no dialogue that doesn't involve the regime leaving. A murderous regime cannot be accepted," prominent opposition figure and former judge Haitham Maleh told Reuters.

The United States also remains firmly opposed to any plan that would leave President Assad in power.  

During a press briefing at the White House, when asked if the Obama administration had been informed of most recent resolution to end violence in Syria, Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed support for the move, but remained firm that Assad was an illegitimate ruler and has to go.  

In May, US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Assad and other senior-level Syrian officials in response to the violent crackdown on protesters. Sanctions were also imposed on Syria's oil industry and key state businesses to exert greater economic pressure on the Syrian government.  

But despite firmly entrenched opposition to Assad in some corners, Arab diplomats have insisted that the Libyan model will not be applied to Syria under any circumstances. Russia has also opposed a repeat of the Libyan scenario, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had previously expressed Russia’s support for the Arab League peace initiative. For its part, NATO has ruled out conducting military operations in the country for the time being.

In the face of deeply entrenched divisions, the Arab league has pledged to continue in its attempts to bring the two parties together in the run up to a national dialogue which is expected within a fortnight.