Syria Agrees to Cease-Fire Proposal

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Syria Undercover airs Nov. 8th; check your local listings or watch it online.

In an attempt to end the uprising that began in March, Syria has accepted an Arab League proposal, pledging to stop violence against protesters, release detainees, allow journalists and international observers into the country, and begin talking to opposition leaders within two weeks.

The AP reports:

Arab nations have been eager to avoid a repeat of the civil war in Libya that led to the capture and brutal treatment of Moammar Gadhafi before he was killed. In the proposal, the Arab League said it sought to prevent foreign intervention in Syria — a marked difference from Libya in which an Arab League decision helped pave the way for a NATO bombing campaign.

But the initial reaction to the announcement has been skeptical from many quarters. “I hope this agreement will be implemented without delay,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who then noted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s history of breaking promises.

“Let’s see what they actually do,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “There is a risk here that they are trying to string out diplomacy, that they are trying to offer their own people half steps, or quarter measures, rather than taking the real steps.”  And White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down.”

Even Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries “don’t have much faith in Syria’s promises,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who was in Cairo for the Arab League meeting on Syria, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is the last opportunity for Damascus.”

Razan Zeitouna, a Syrian activist, told The Los Angeles Times that the deal is evidence of the weakened status of Assad’s regime, but said she had “no illusion” that the deal would stop the violence.

And reports are emerging this morning of continuing violence from Syrian security forces: “We slept late because there were overnight street rallies celebrating the Arab initiative,” one activist in the Syrian city of Homs told Reuters. “This morning we woke up to rain and shelling.” The wire service reports five civilians died in the city. According to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people have died since the revolt began in March.

Fridays have seen the biggest demonstrations over the past seven months, and activists told The Guardian they are organizing protests for tomorrow. “Tomorrow we will see how serious they are,” one activist said. “I think they cannot afford to take the tanks from the streets just yet.”

Update (3 pm EST): The New York Times reports that at least 13 civilians were killed in Homs today. “We were hoping the violence might stop after the authorities agreed to the initiative, but the scene is still unbearable,” one resident said. “The bloodshed hasn’t stopped, and the army and security forces haven’t left the streets.”

Syrian regime supporters flash the V-victory sign as they hold up a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a rally at Umayyad Square in Damascus, Syria. Wednesday Oct. 26, 2011. Some thousands of Syrians packed the square Wednesday in a show of support for embattled President Bashar Assad, a few hours ahead of a visit by senior Arab officials probing ways to start a dialogue between the regime and the opposition. credit: (AP Photo/ Bassem Tellawi)
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