Syria: rebels and regime agree to cease-fire in Zabadani. Obama: Assad must leave
A truce was agreed with the leaders of the city, near the border with Lebanon, the center of resistance to the regime. The 22 observers of the Arab League deliver their report. Damascus is open to a one-month extension of the mission. Obama meets with Abdullah of Jordan and asks the Syrian president to step aside.
Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Syrian troops fighting rebels in the city of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, have apparently negotiated a ceasefire. Under the terms of the agreement, the army will withdraw and abandon the streets. The news comes from an opposition source, Kamal al-Labwani. "The bombing of the tanks has stopped. From the Zabadani minarets muezzins are informing people of the Agreement. I believe that the specific resistance and defections have forced the regime to negotiate. We'll see if the agreement will hold. The withdrawal should begin tomorrow, "he said. The Syrian authorities have not commented, and official media have not reported the news of the fighting. Zabadani is a city of 40 thousand inhabitants in Crich 30 km northwest of Damascus, and is one of the strongholds against the regime. The army attack began Friday, 30 soldiers have died. The cease-fire was negotiated between the leaders of the city and the Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, brother of Bashar al-Assad.
Damascus is ready to allow observers from the Arab League to continue their mission beyond this week. Meanwhile U.S. President Barack Obama said he wanted to increase international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. "Unfortunately we're continuing to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country. We will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourages the current Syrian regime to step aside, "Obama said after a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in Washington.
On Sunday, the Arab League must decide whether to withdraw its 165 observers in Syria, or to continue the mission. Damascus has agreed to a one month extension to the deadline, and an increase in their numbers, but refuses to extend the range of their activities. The observers will present their report on 22 January, which is expected to say that Damascus has not fully implemented the peace plan proposed by the League. The sheikh of Qatar has proposed in recent days that a military force intervene in Syria to stop the violence. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said yesterday it was "stunned" by the suggestion, which it "absolutely refused".
The Arab League could ask the UN Security Council to intervene, but so far Russia and China have prevented any action against Damascus. It is discussing a draft resolution tabled by Russia in recent days, without much progress. Western countries do not accept the Russian proposal which lays the blame equally with the regime and the opposition for the violence in the country. U.S., France and Germany have said that the text is unacceptable. Four hours of discussion yesterday failed to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, Turkey claims that a Russian ship, the "Chariot" containing tons of "hazardous cargo", ie weapons, bound for Syria, has left the Cypriot port of Limassol for Turkey. But in the meantime it has vanished from the radar, and is suspected to have docked at the Syrian port of Tartus to unload the contents of its holds.