Arab League foreign ministers meeting in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, have agreed on a draft resolution on Syria, which calls for action on a UN-backed peace plan formulated by former UN chief Kofi Annan.
Speaking after the first day of the summit on Wednesday, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said “the Syrian crisis is not exclusively an Arab one, it affects the entire international community”, and called for a “unified vision” when it came to resolving regional issues.
On Tuesday, Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, said President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to the six-point peace proposal that urges an end to violence in that country.
Annan’s proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. It also calls for a temporary ceasefire to be established every day in order to allow medical and humanitarian aid to be delivered.
Arab states have backed away from their initial proposal, which demanded that Assad step down, after Russia and China vetoed two UN draft resolutions condemning him.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Baghdad, said there had been no ultimatum, no threats of force and no calls on Assad to step aside.
“We heard the Iraqi foreign minister saying talks were positive, there was consensus and that Arab foreign ministers reached draft resolution on Syria.
“But clearly there are divisions. We heard opening statements, we heard the Libyan foreign minister saying there should be more international pressure. And the Iraqi foreign minister said the way forward should be to find a political solution.”
‘No foreign intervention’
Before the summit began, Zebari said the League would not accept foreign intervention in Syria.
The Annan proposal is the latest attempt to broker an end to more than a year of violence in Syria, after Assad sent troops into cities to try to crush opposition fighters and protesters seeking to end his 12-year rule.
Iran has also backed the Annan peace plan, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Damascus responded by saying that it would reject any initiatives made at the summit relating to Syria, according to the Lebanese TV channel al-Manar.
The Arab League suspended Syria last year, but members are split over how to handle increasing violence that threatens to inflame the region’s complex ethnic and sectarian mix.
The summit marked the first time Iraq has hosted an Arab League summit since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Iraq hopes its hosting of the summit will show it has emerged from years of turmoil and bloody chaos following the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation.
“The Baghdad government is really attaching a great importance to this summit because they want to return to the Arab fold,” Al Jazeera’s Khodr said.
“They believe that this is a recognition of the new Iraq. This is going to be the first time that a Shia leader is going to be hosting an Arab summit. And Baghdad has been trying to mend relations with Sunni Arab states.”
As the League met in Iraq, violence continued in Syria. Activists reported clashes between Syrian army units and opposition fighters in the country’s centre, east and south.
Activists said Syrian troops stormed the towns of Qalaat al-Madiq and Saraqeb, leaving behind a trail of destruction.
At least four civilians, four soldiers and five army defectors were reportedly killed in the central town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages. The town, in Hama province, has been battered by heavy machine guns and artillery for days.
“People are fleeing their homes, many of them unsure which direction to take,” said an activist in the area who identified himself as Ammar.
The military seized Saraqeb overnight after a four-day offensive that began on Sunday. Forty people, including both civilians and fighters, were killed in the assault, according to activists. Opposition fighters had an active presence in the northern town and had used it as a base to target army convoys nearby.
Activist Fadi al-Yassin said the army was now in full control of Saraqeb, stationing snipers on rooftops and conducting searches and raids.
He said army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army resisted on the first day but then pulled out, fearing that they would bring more destruction on the town.
“They fled because there was no way they were going to be able to face the regime’s huge military force,” he said by satellite phone.