09/12/2011, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON
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Assad and Arab League close to deal, Beshara al-Rai praised in Damascus

by JPG
Nabil Al-Arabi met with the Syrian president two days ago. Today and tomorrow, Arab League will discuss a proposed settlement to the Syrian crisis. Reforms begin as crackdown and bans continue. Maronite patriarch calls on the world to show patience with Assad, stirring a hornet’s nest back home in Lebanon.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – The Arab League and President Bashar al Assad appear to have reached an agreement on how to defuse the Syrian crisis. Since yesterday, some scenarios are emerging from the current meeting of the Arab League in Cairo. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Patriarch Beshara Rai was met with applause for his pro-Assad statements even though they have proven divisive among Christians in Lebanon.

The Syrian president met Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Arabi on Saturday, three days after its original date, after Assad asked for a postponement.

“I insisted during the meeting with President Assad on the necessity of taking immediate steps to stop violence and bloodshed in Syria,” Al-Arabi said in the afternoon, after flying back to Cairo where he will submit the agreement to the council of the Arab League.

“I focused on the importance of an open national dialogue that encompasses all personalities . . . [and] in which the Arab League plays a major role,” al-Arabi said. The aim would be “national reconciliation”.

In his tête-à-tête with President Assad, he told the Syrian leader that it was urgent to implement reforms to face the current crisis.

Quoting al-Arabi, state-owned SANA news agency noted the “Arab League's rejection of all forms of foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs,” and its commitment “to Syria's security and stability,” stressing that “the Arab League will never be a way for passing a resolution against any Arab country.”

“The two sides also agreed upon a number of practical steps for speeding up the reform process in Syria,” SANA said.

Equally, “President al-Assad stressed the importance of not being misled by media misdirection and instigation campaigns targeting Syria, pointing out to the falsification of facts that is taking place in an attempt to tarnish the image of Syria and destabilize its security and stability.”

However, neither the Arab League nor the Syrian government have provided any specific information about the agreement. The latter is being examined at the Arab League foreign ministers meeting that began yesterday in Cairo and is set to end tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the crackdown continues across the country, sign that Syrian authorities have not heeded the Arab League’s request for an “immediate cessation” of violence. In fact, Syria’s Interior Ministry re-imposed a ban on motorcycles in cities because they are used by “terrorists”. He ordered the immediate arrest of anyone riding one inside city premises.

Yesterday, the “national dialogue” began in the capital and various governatorates on political, economic and social reforms. According to SANA, various grassroots, commercial and academic organisations are taking part in the process. The opposition however is not present.

The national dialogue is in fact organised by and under the control of the ruling Baa‘th and had been planned prior to Nabil Al-Arabi’s visit.

Last night, Syrian Prime Minister issued new rules to implement a law on political parties signed by President Al-Assad. The new legislation is designed to “revitalize political life, and practice its activities with peaceful and democratic methods to carry out specific and public programs, underlining the need for parties to respect the constitution democracy, the rule of law, public rights and liberties, human rights”.

Future parties will have to “preserve national unity”, publish their political programmes and sources of funding. They cannot have either a religious, ethnic (hence no Kurdish or Armenian parties) or professional basis. They will not have military or paramilitary forces. They will not be able to be affiliated with non-Syrian parties.

Last night, a Damascus TV station focused on the inter-Arab dimension of the Syrian crisis in a long an exceptional report that praised the head of the Maronite Church, Patriarch Beshara Butros al-Rai, who has returned from France where he called for patience towards the Syrian president to enable him to implement his promised reforms.

By contrast, at home in Lebanon, the patriarch’s statement stirred a hornet’s nest. The pro-Syrian camp (the 8 March movement, which includes General Michel Aoun, a former enemy of Syria, but now allied with Hizbollah) welcomed al-Rai’s words. Conversely, the ’14 March’ camp, which includes most Lebanese Christians, was critical of his statement.
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