Arab League Announces Deal With Syria

Wednesday in Cairo, the Arab League announced an agreement with the Syrian government on a plan to end the violence there and launch a dialogue between the government and opposition leaders. But many of the protest organizers in Syria say they will not enter into negotiations with the government as long as security forces remain in cities and towns around the country.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

The Arab League has announced a deal with Syria. It's meant to end nearly eight months of violence there. And Syrian state television says Bashar al-Assad's government has accepted the plan.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports now from Cairo, where the deal was announced.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: At a televised news conference at Arab League headquarters here, Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani stressed that Syria's acceptance of the group's plan was not enough. He urged Syrian officials to immediately implement the plan. It calls on the government to withdraw tanks and armored personnel carriers from Syrian streets, release political prisoners, and meet with Syrian opposition leaders in the next two weeks.

AL-THANI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The Qatari minister added that Syrian officials must also immediately let Arab monitors and the international media into their country, so they can see what is happening firsthand. That has not been the case thus far. Most news of the violence going on in Syria comes from amateur videos posted online, witness accounts, and reports from activists.

NABIL ELARABY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The Arab League's Egyptian secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, praised the plan as a, quote, Arab solution to the Syrian crisis. But he, like the Qatari foreign minister, insisted Assad's government must work quickly to ensure Syrians find the plan credible and start to feel safe.

For now, the plan is raising more questions than it answers. Neither Elaraby nor the Qatari foreign minister would say what will happen if Assad fails to implement the measures. Nor is it clear Syrian officials would agree to meet with opposition leaders in Cairo, as the league wants. There have also been conflicting reports of the views of Syrian opposition groups about a dialogue with the government in Damascus.

Meanwhile, violence continued in one of the cities at the heart of Syria's uprising. Activists reported at least 20 people were killed in the central city of Homs, which was rocked by machine-gun fire and explosions. Who was behind the latest violence was not immediately clear, but activists say the crisis is exacerbating religious and sectarian tensions.

The United Nations says some 3,000 people have died in Syria since the uprising began in March.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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