Syria agrees to end crackdown, Arab League says

Cairo (CNN) — Syria has agreed to end its crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, pull troops from the streets and release prisoners jailed during months of protests, the Arab League announced Wednesday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to “stop all violence from any side in order to protect the Syrian citizens,” Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim, announced after an Arab League meeting in Cairo. The Syrians also agreed to allow Arab League observers and international journalists to into Syria and allow their freedom of movement “in order to witness and document the reality of the developments,” he said.

And in two weeks, they will launch a “national dialogue” moderated by the Arab League, he said.

In response, the Free Syrian Army — a group of military deserters who have helped defend anti-government protesters — said it would abide by the Arab League agreement “as long as the regime commits to the same.”

“And in the case that the regime falls short of meeting the Arab League requirements, we will be compelled to protect the protesters and work on bringing down the regime no matter how much that may cost us,” the group added in a post on its Facebook page.

Syria has made previous pledges to withdraw armed forces from civilian areas. But in some of those cases, they withdrew only armored units and left infantry in place, or returned after a brief pullout. Anti-government activists criticized those steps as efforts by al-Assad’s regime to buy time.

Syria also has made other moves aimed at defusing the protests, including plans to draft a new constitution, but they have failed to appease the demonstrators.

The Arab League declaration came amid reports of nearly two dozen more deaths in the Syrian province of Homs on Wednesday. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 21 people were killed, including eight shot to death by security forces and pro-government gunmen in the city of Homs.

Eleven others were killed in the town of Kfarhala/Al Hula after they were attacked in the factory where they worked by armed men coming from villages that support the Syrian regime, the organization said. CNN cannot independently verify the reports because the Syrian government has limited access to international news organizations.

Syria is one of several Middle Eastern and North African states swept up in the “Arab Spring” revolts that began in January in Tunisia. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 people have died in Syria since unrest broke out in mid-March, when protesters began calling for the end the 40-year-old al-Assad regime.

(edition.cnn.com / 02.11.2011)

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