Syria puts conditions on Arab peace plan

Syria has said it “would like” to agree soon to an Arab League peace plan to end its eight-month crackdown on popular unrest, but rejected foreign interference and demanded the end of sanctions plus reinstatement in the regional bloc.

The conditions were set in a letter yesterday to the league by foreign minister Walid al-Mualem, described by his spokesman as a “positive” response requiring an Arab League reply.

In Cairo, Arab League secretary general Nabil Elaraby said: “The conditions contained new elements that we have not heard before”. Arab foreign league ministers were studying the response.

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Syria meanwhile has retaliated against northern neighbour Turkey for the sanctions imposed by its former friend, imposing a tariff of 30 per cent on its imports and prohibitive duties on fuel and freight.

Turkey shrugged it off, saying “common sense” should tell Syria that its own people would suffer most.

In a display of muscle that could be intended to deter any idea of foreign military intervention in a crisis which has killed at least 4,000 people, the army staged a big exercise yesterday with missiles, rockets, tanks and helicopters.

Senior generals watched the war games and state television made it the headline news story.

Already hit by economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, Syria was punished last month by neighbouring states, with sanctions announced by the Arab League..

Those sanctions have yet to take effect. The league has repeatedly extended deadlines for Damascus to agree to a peace plan that would see Arab monitors oversee its withdrawal of troops from towns. The latest expired on Sunday.