REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- An Arab initiative to end violence in Syria appeared at an impasse Sunday, as Damascus and Arab foreign ministers failed to agree on a formula that would allow monitors into the country.
The Arab League rejected what it called a Syrian effort to “change radically” the league’s peace blueprint, which calls for the government of President Bashar Assad to remove troops from cities and towns and conduct talks with the opposition.
Arab foreign ministers have already suspended Syria from the 22-member bloc because of what the league calls the government’s failure to implement the peace plan, which Damascus agreed to on Nov. 2. But Arab ministers have been extending deadlines and granting reprieves to Syria in an apparent bid to keep the peace plan alive.
“The League is committed to solving the Syrian crisis within an Arab framework,” the group said Sunday in a statement.
A core dispute appears to be the amount of freedom given to a planned Arab monitor mission, which is a key part of the peace road map. The league wants its monitors to have freedom to travel and meet with the opposition, visit conflict zones, hospitals and other relevant sites.
Syria says the monitors will have “freedom of movement,” reported the official news agency, SANA, and will be allowed to meet with the opposition. But Damascus wants “to be informed of the places the mission will go,” the Syrian agency said, quoting Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
According to the United Nations, at least 3,500 civilians have been killed since protests began in mid-March. The government denies targeting civilians and blames the violence on “armed terrorists,” including Muslim extremists.
On Sunday, Syria denied widely circulated opposition reports that rebels had launched a grenade attack on the Damascus headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. The opposition is seeking to oust Assad and end the more-than four-decade Baathist rule.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Supporters of protesters in Syria put up a Syrian flag on the facade of the Arab World Institute in Paris on Sunday. Credit: Christophe Ena / Associated Press