Groups say agree plan with Arab League on Syrian monitors

CAIRO Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:17am EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League chief and Arab civil society groups agreed a plan on Monday to create a 500-strong fact-finding team to send to Syria as part of efforts to end a violent crackdown by the authorities against anti-government protests, participants said.

The League suspended Syria for failing stick to a deal that included withdrawing its military from residential areas and starting talks with the Syrian opposition in an effort to end the violence.

Syria called for an emergency Arab summit in an apparent bid to avert being suspended. It has also said it would welcome any military or other observers and experts that an Arab committee wanted to bring to Syria to assess what was happening.

The Arab Medical Union's Ibrahim al-Zafarani said the 500-strong team would include military personnel. He was speaking after attending the meeting between League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and several Arab humanitarian and rights groups.

"Syria agreed to receive the (fact-finding) committee," Zafarani said, adding that Elaraby had received a letter confirming Damascus would accept the team.

"A protocol will be signed between the Arab League and Syria to guarantee the freedom of movement of this committee," he said.

An Arab League official said the Arab foreign ministers were expected to approve sending the team at a ministerial meeting this week in Morocco.

Another participant, human rights expert Mohamed Faiq, said the list of 500 monitors would be drawn up in 48 hours.

"The fact-finding committee could become a mechanism to resolve the crisis given that all Arab states reject the idea of international intervention," Faiq added.

A Syrian official was quoted by Syria's official SANA news agency on Sunday as saying the Syria's leadership welcomed any visit by the Arab ministerial committee.

It said it would accept the committee "accompanied by whatever civilian and military observers and experts it deems appropriate from the countries of the committee, as well as Arab media, to review directly what is happening on the ground and to supervise the implementation of the Arab initiative, in cooperation with the Syrian government and authorities."

Ahead of Monday's gathering between Elaraby and civil society groups, a League official said: "The aim of this meeting it to establish a vision for protecting civilians from the grip of the Syrian army."

Monday's talks included rights groups such as the Arab Organization for Human Rights, as well as Arab unions for lawyers, doctors and journalists. At least nine groups took part.

Elaraby had said on a visit to Libya on Sunday that League officials would meet representatives of Syrian groups opposed to Assad on Tuesday but said it was too soon to consider recognizing the Syrian opposition as the legitimate authority.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir in Cairo and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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