Syria has agreed to allow an Arab observer mission into the country to monitor Damascus’ compliance with a peace agreement aimed at stopping violence, as human rights activists said that more than 100 people were killed across the country.
Faisal al-Maqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, and Ahmed Ben Helli, the Arab League assistant secretary-general, signed the document at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said that Syria had only signed up to the deal after making sure it did not infringe on his country’s sovereignty.
He said the deal was for an initial period of one month, renewable with the agreement of both sides.
Syria has consistently rejected the view of Western governments and human rights groups that the protests in the country have been overwhelmingly peaceful, insisting that they are the work of armed groups.
“This is just a ploy. They have no intention of implementing any initiative.“
– Burhan Ghalioun, head of Syrian National Council
Muallem said he expected the observers’ mission to vindicate the government’s position that Syria has been battling an armed rebellion.
“There are many countries in the world who don’t wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria.” he said.
“They will come and see that they are present… We must not be afraid at all.”
The agreement ends weeks of prevarication that had prompted the Arab League to adopt sanctions over President Bashar al-Assad crackdown on dissidents.
‘Just a ploy’
Under the terms of the deal that the observers are intended to oversee, security forces are required to pull back from the towns and villages that have been at the centre of nine straight months of protests and open negotiations with the opposition under League auspices.
The leader of the Syrian National Council, Syria’s main opposition bloc, dismissed as a ploy Damascus’s acceptance of an Arab League plan.
“The Syrian regime is manoeuvring to try to prevent the Syrian file being submitted to the UN Security Council,” Burhan Ghalioun said.
“This is just a ploy. They have no intention of implementing any initiative.”
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said it was still not clear how the mission would develop on the ground.
“I do not think the Syrian side, nor the opposition, nor the Arab League are firm on their view of how this will work. It is the first time that the Arab League takes such a mission,” she said.
“I think that all sides will try to make it work for their interests.”
As the observers’ deal was signed, activists on Monday reported the deaths of more than 60 Syrian army defectors and at least 48 civilians.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rami Abdel Rahman, the founder of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the defectors were trying to flee from their base in Kan Safra to Kafar Ouwaied in Jabal al-Zawyeh when they were shot dead by members of Syria’s regular army.
Meanwhile, the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network said 14 civilians were killed in the province of Deraa, 12 in Homs, nine in Kansafra in the province of Idlib, three in Damascus, three in Qoriya in Deir al-Zor, three in Hama, two in Saraqeb, and one in a Damascus suburb.
The latest reports of violence came as the UN General Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly condemned what it said were human rights violations in Syria, adding to international pressure on Assad.
A resolution, passed with 133 countries in favour, 11 against and 43 abstentions “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations” by Syria, highlighting “arbitrary executions” and “persecution” of protesters and human rights defenders.
Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s UN ambassador, said the resolution was part of a “devilish” plot against his country.
Russia and China abstained in the vote, which was passed as the UN Security Council started negotiations on a Russian-proposed resolution which would condemn violence by both sides in the conflict.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the street in al-Midan neighbourhood in Damascus, chanting anti-government slogans. Activists broadcast the protest live online.
In another part of the capital, the government organised a show of strength in Sabaa Bahrat Square in the city centre, mobilising thousands of its supporters.
Demonstrators were heard chanting slogans in support of Assad and against the sanctions ordered by the Arab League.
Huge flags of countries that have opposed punitive measures against the government hung from surrounding office blocks, alongside the colours of Damascus’ regional allies.
“Hail to Russia, hail to China,” a rally organiser chanted over a loudhailer, saluting the two veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent members’ blocking of an October resolution that would have threatened regime figures with the “targeted measures.”
“Hail to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hail to Hassan Nasrallah,” the speaker added of Syria’s closest regional allies, the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah, the Shia resistance group that dominates the current government in neighbouring Lebanon.
State television gave prominent coverage to the rally, hailing the young demonstrators’ desire to “express their support for the reforms being undertaken by President Assad and their rejection of foreign interference.”