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Syria agrees to Arab League deal on monitors

Syria on Monday agreed to accept an Arab League request for international monitors to enter the country to ensure compliance with a government ceasefire. The request was submitted in the wake of a government crackdown on anti-regime protests.


AP - Syria has accepted an Arab League request to send observers to the country in an effort to end its eight-month crisis, a move that could ease Arab sanctions on Damascus, the foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.

The Syrian statement came after Damascus announced it has conducted wide military manoeuvres over the weekend in an apparent show of force as President Bashar Assad’s regime defies pressures over its deadly crackdown on opponents.

The ministry’s spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, told reporters that Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem “responded positively” to the League demand and sent a letter to the organization’s chief Nabil Elaraby on Sunday night.

Arab leaders had given Syria a new deadline of Sunday to respond to the League’s plan, which calls for the admission of observers to ensure compliance with a government cease-fire. They also held out the threat of pushing for U.N. involvement if Damascus balks.

The 22-member Arab League did not immediately react to Syria’s announcement. Syria’s failure to meet a Nov. 25 deadline to allow in observers drew Arab League sanctions, including a ban on dealings with the country’s central bank.

Together with sanctions from the United States, the European Union and Turkey, the Arab League’s penalties are expected to inflict significant damage on Syria’s economy and may undercut the regime’s authority.

Some sanctions - the central bank ban, a halt to Arab government funding of projects in Syria and a freeze of Syrian government assets - went into effect immediately.

Also, an Arab meeting in Qatar on Saturday approved a list of 19 Syrian officials subject to a travel ban. Among them are Assad’s younger brother Maher, who is believed to be in command of much of the crackdown, as well as Cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs and security officers. The list does not include the president himself.

Earlier Monday, Syria’s state-run media said Syrian military war games over the weekend included test-firing of missiles and air force and ground troop operations “similar to a real battle.”

Syria is under both Arab and international pressure to end its crackdown on an eight-month uprising that the U.N. says has killed more than 4,000 people. The manoeuvres took place over the weekend, as tightened sanctions by Arab and other nations have failed to halt the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Syria’s military conducts war game every year but these manoeuvres were of a higher-level, combining missile tests, the air force and ground troops. State TV said the exercise was meant to test “the capabilities and the readiness of missile systems to respond to any possible aggression.”

The drill showed Syrian missiles and troops were “ready to defend the nation and deter anyone who dares to endanger its security” and that the missiles hit their test targets with precision, the TV said.

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