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Syria 'Will Reject' Any Initiative From Arab League Summit


Free Syrian Army fighters stand guard in Idlib, northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border.
Syrian officials say the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will reject any initiative that comes out of this week's Arab League summit in the Iraqi capital aimed at ending the yearlong conflict in Syria.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said on March 28 that since Syria's Arab League membership was suspended Damascus does not consider itself bound to uphold any of the decisions of the organization.

"Since suspension of its AL membership, Syria has handled relations with other Arabic countries in a bilateral way," Makdissi said. "Syria won't accept any resolutions reached during the summit."

The 22-nation Arab League suspended Syria's membership in an effort to put pressure on Assad's government to end the bloody crackdown on opposition supporters.

Makdissi said that since its suspension, Damascus has been dealing with Arab League member states on a bilateral level.

Speaking after Arab League foreign ministers met in Baghdad on March 28, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the summit will issue a resolution on Syria that offers "nothing new" but will complement international efforts aimed at ending the yearlong crisis in Syria.

About half of the leaders of the 22-member Arab League are expected to attend the March 29 leaders' summit to debate a draft resolution calling on Damascus to end the violence and hold talks with the opposition. The summit is not expected to see high-level participation from Arab heavyweights like Saudi Arabia.

Negative Consequences

Speaking to journalists, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari warned of negative consequences if the Arab League plan on Syria was rejected.

"If the initiative fails, God won't forgive," he said."The Security Council will pass a binding resolution on Syria."

The United Nations Security Council, faced with opposition from Russia and China to a legally binding statement on the Syrian crisis, has so far only been able to approve a nonbinding statement urging a halt to violence and negotiations.

For its part, Syrian ally Iran has said it supports a UN-Arab League plan for Syria that calls for the withdrawal of government troops that have been crushing dissent.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would not demand the removal of Assad.

Salehi said a power vacuum in Damascus could have damaging consequences for the region. He also said UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, the initiator of the peace plan, is due to visit Tehran next week.

Iran has backed popular uprisings that removed authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen but has supported its ally, President Assad.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has praised the Syrian government's handling of the yearlong revolt, saying Tehran would do everything it could to support its ally.

Syrian government forces, meanwhile, were reported to have continued heavy-weapons fire against opposition strongholds on March 28, despite Assad's announced acceptance of the UN-Arab League peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to its barracks.

'No More Time To Waste'

On the same day these attacks occurred, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged Assad to "immediately" implement the six-point plan to stop bloodshed in Syria," saying there was no more time to waste.

The European Union welcomed the announcement that Assad had accepted the peace plan, but said the Syrian government needed to show it was serious about putting it into place.

"We have seen the president of Syria make statements in the past, talking about reforms and dialogue and that hasn't happened so we hope that this time he really means it," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign-policy and security chief Catherine Ashton.

In related news, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on March 28 that dozens of Syrian officials, subject to international travel bans and asset freezes, will be blocked from attending the Summer Olympic Games in London.

Cameron said Syrian athletes would be allowed into Britain to compete in the Summer Games from July 27 to August 12 because athletes should not be punished for "the sins of the regime."

The Syrian Olympic team includes a handful of swimmers and track athletes. The country's soccer team still has a chance to qualify for the Games.

A total of 41 organizations and 127 people linked to Assad's regime have had European Union sanctions imposed upon them.

Estimates say that more than 9,000 people -- mostly civilians, but also including members of the security forces -- have been killed in the past year of the Syrian conflict.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq
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