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Arabs agree Syria opposition contacts, peace force

Update: February, 13/2012 - 11:37

CAIRO – The Arab League said on Sunday it had agreed to open contacts with Syria's opposition and ask the United Nations to form a joint peacekeeping force to the nation, moves swiftly denounced by Syria.

In Lebanon meanwhile, refugees from the Syrian city of Homs which is besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's troops, gave graphic accounts of what they had endured.

Arab League diplomats "will open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and offer full political and financial support, urging (the opposition) to unify its ranks," said a League statement obtained by AFP.

They would also "ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire."

After marathon talks in Cairo, the 22-member bloc announced a formal end of its own observer mission to Syria, suspended last month because of an upsurge in violence.

Only Algeria and Lebanon expressed reservations about the resolution, an Arab League official said.

Syria's ambassador to Cairo denounced the League moves.

"The Syrian Arab Republic categorically rejects the decisions of the Arab League," which "reflects the hysteria of these governments" after failing to get foreign intervention at the UN Security Council, Yusef Ahmed said in a statement.

Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the opposition umbrella grouping the Syrian National Council, told Al-Jazeera television he welcomed the moves as "a first step" towards the fall of the regime.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross said their "volunteers are distributing food, medical supplies, blankets, and hygiene consumables to thousands of people" in Homs.

"The population, particularly the wounded and sick, are bearing the brunt of the violence," the ICRC's Marianne Gasser said in a statement.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon had broached the idea of a joint Arab-UN mission this month as he bemoaned the Security Council's failure to agree a resolution on Syria in the face of Chinese and Russian opposition.

The Arab League has already put forward a plan for Assad to transfer power to his deputy and for a government of national unity to be formed ahead of elections.

On Sunday, Syrian government newspaper Ath-Thawra accused Arab nations of being in the pay of Western powers, accusations echoed by Damascus's ambassador to Cairo.

The League's decision to back the opposition and call for joint UN-Arab peacekeepers showed it was "hostage to the governments of (certain) Arab countries headed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia," working in collaboration with the West, Ahmed said.-- afp

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