Syria has rejected a new Arab League road map for peace that would see President Bashar al-Assad handing power to a deputy.
compiled from agency reports
Arab League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo on January 22, also called on Syria to form a national unity government with the opposition within two months.
Syrian state-run television, however, has quoted an unnamed Syrian regime official as describing the plan as “an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs."
Earlier, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani laid out the ambitious plan of political reform.
"After consulting all our Arab brothers in the Arab League, we agreed on forming an Arab initiative, whose most important points are to set up a national unity government, the appointment of a neutral body, delegating powers to the vice-president, setting the stage for elections, followed by a constitution, and to set up a constituent assembly and we also set a timeline," Thani said.
The 22-state league said it would take its road map to the United Nations Security Council for endorsement.
The Syrian National Council, Syria’s largest opposition group, insisted that "any transition in Syria should be preceded with the announcement of al-Assad's departure."
The Local Coordination Committees, the opposition group that organizes antiregime protests, said the plan was "unattainable" due to a lack of a mechanism to implement its measures. It said the initiative would only allow the regime more time to pursue a deadly crackdown.
In Brussels, diplomats said European Union foreign ministers meeting on January 23 backed the Arab plan and extended existing sanctions against al-Assad's government by adding 22 more officials and eight companies to the blacklist.
The EU is already enforcing an arms embargo and oil imports ban on Syria.
"We support the work of the Arab League," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said ahead of the meeting with his EU counterparts. "I think their activity and engagement with this, their effort to ensure a peaceful way forward, is to be commended and supported. Clearly, it has not yet had the desired effect, and the repression in Syria has continued, the loss of life among civilians has continued; but I think it important for the Arab League to remain in the forefront of this work."
The UN says more than 5,000 people have died in Syria's ten month uprising against Assad.
At their meeting, the Arab League ministers said they were also extending the 165-strong monitoring mission in Syria for another month.
The monitors have previously been criticized for failing to stop the violence.
The Damascus government says it is fighting "terrorists” and “armed gangs."
International pressure has been growing on Assad's government, but a tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia.
The Russian business daily “Kommersant” reported that Moscow has signed a $550 million contract to sell 36 Yak-130 combat jets to Damascus. A spokesman for Rosoboronexport denied to comment.