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Arab League await Syria’s response to end violence

Syrians waving national flags as they rally in support of President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Deir Al-Zor, southeast of Damascus, yesterday. Photo: Ho- Sana/AFP

Syrians waving national flags as they rally in support of President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Deir Al-Zor, southeast of Damascus, yesterday. Photo: Ho- Sana/AFP

Syria was poised to respond yesterday to an Arab proposal to end violence between regime forces and protesters, diplomats said, a day before Arab foreign ministers are to hold a key meeting to discuss the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists reported that five more people were killed in the protests-wracked country and dozens arrested, including 60 schoolchildren detained for holding an anti-regime rally in their school yard.

On Sunday, an Arab task force headed by Qatar met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and submitted a proposal calling on President Bashar al-Assad to pull tanks off the streets and begin talks with his opponents.

Syria was due to give its response to the plan on Monday but Mr Muallem asked for some changes and a reply was expected yesterday.

Algerian Foreign Minister Murad Medelci sounded upbeat. “We had a good meeting in Doha and we have found some common group with our Syrian friends. I hope this will be confirmed in Cairo,” he said.

And an Arab League diplomat told AFP “there has been agreement on some minor amendments, but the Arab delegation demanded a final response yesterday to the Arab proposal.” He said Syria would inform Qatar of its response.

Syria’s Arab League representative Yusef Ahmed said his government would respond to the plan yesterday and added: “We are dealing positively with the last proposal, which was drafted (at Sunday’s meeting) in Qatar.”

Syrian daily Al-Watan reported that “Muallem provided the Qatari side with ideas adequate to resolve the crisis in Syria... and requested additional time to consult with his leadership.”

After returning to Damascus from Doha on Monday, Mr ­Muallem held talks with the Syrian leadership about the Arab road-map, said Al-Watan, which is close to the government.

Arab foreign ministers are due to meet today regardless of Syria’s decision, with some diplomats concerned that the response from Damascus will be tied to conditions to gain time.

“Syria’s answer could be ‘yes, but,’ a manoeuvre to buy time,” said one diplomat who attended the Doha talks.

As pressure increased on Assad to end the bloodletting, which the UN says has claimed more than 3,000 lives since mid-March, activists said five more people were killed yesterday and dozens arrested.

Two civilians were killed when pro-regime militiamen opened fire in central Homs and one was shot by security forces in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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