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Arab League Offers Assad 'Safe Exit'


Bodies at a cemetery in the Qabon district of Damascus on July 22
The Arab League has offered President Bashar al-Assad a "safe exit" from Syria for him and his family if he steps down.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby gave no further details on the proposal at an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Doha, Qatar.

The Arab League meeting also promised $100 million for Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

The meeting urged rebels of the Free Syrian Army to create a transitional government of national unity.

The move, however, was denounced by Iraqi officials.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the matter was "the sole responsiblity of the Syrian people."

Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi said the call was "not appropriate at this time because it is interfering in the sovereignty of another country."

Baghdad has repeatedly called for negotiations and reform since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011

On July 23, Syria's Foreign Ministry rejected the Arab League's offer and called the league's statement "hypocritical.".

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the security situation in Damascus is improving and will be normalized within days and rejected an Arab League offer to provide a "safe exit" for Assad.

Fighting between the rebels and government forces was meanwhile reported continuing in Damascus and Aleppo.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 now exceeds 19,000 people.

The figure could not be independently confirmed.

European Union foreign ministers have decided to enforce an existing arms embargo against Syria by requiring member nations to board ships and aircraft carrying suspicious cargo to the war-torn nation.

The ministers, meeting in Brussels, endorsed the measure and added 27 Syrian individuals and three companies to the bloc's sanctions list.

The EU banned weapons exports to Syria in May 2011 but until now member states could decide themselves whether to inspect cargoes believed to be in breach of the embargo.

Syria's military arsenal is mainly of Soviet and Russian origin.

Very little of its weaponry originates from Western nations, which makes it unlikely that the EU arms embargo will have a significant effect.

In a related development, the United States has said it will "hold accountable" any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country's chemical weapons.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says Washington is actively consulting with Syria's neighbors and the international community about concerns over Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles

A spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry said Damascus would only use chemical weapons in response to "aggression" coming from outside the country.

Spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that the government would never use such weapons against Syrians.

He added that the country's chemical-weapons stockpiles remain well-protected by the military, despite the conflict engulfing the nation.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

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