Syria takes first steps towards ending violence

SYRIA and the Arab League have agreed on a roadmap to end the violence and a formal announcement is due to be made today at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Syrian state television said last night.

“Syria and the Arab League are in agreement over the final paper concerning the situation in Syria and the official announcement will be made at Arab League headquarters tomorrow,” the report said.

The announcement was carried by the official SANA news agency came as Arab League officials said they expected Damascus to give its answer to a plan to end the violence. The UN says 3,000 people have been killed by security forces since the unrest began.

Syria was planting landmines along parts of the country’s border with Lebanon as refugees stream out of the country to escape the crackdown on anti-government protests, officials and witnesses said.

A Syrian man, whose foot had to be amputated after he stepped on a mine just across from the Lebanese village of Irsal on Sunday, was the first known victim of the mines, according to a doctor at a hospital in Lebanon where the man was brought for treatment. He asked that his name not be published out of fear of repercussions by authorities because of the sensitivity of the case.

The Syrian exodus to neighbouring Lebanon and Turkey has proven a deep embarrassment for besieged President Bashar Assad, who only warned over the weekend that the Middle East will burn if foreign powers try to intervene in his country’s conflict.

A Syrian official familiar with government strategy claimed the anti-personnel mines are meant to prevent arms smuggling into Syria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. Witnesses on the Lebanese side of the border said they have seen Syrian soldiers planting the mines in two parts of Syrian territory: in the restive province of Homs and across from Lebanon’s Baalbek region.

“Syria has undertaken many measures to control the borders, including planting mines,” said the official.

More than 5,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the crisis began in March.

The landmines are the latest sign of Syria’s isolation and just how deeply shaken the Assad regime has become since the uprising began. Assad, a 46-year-old eye doctor who trained in Britain, still has a firm grip on power, although the cost has been mighty.

Syria is a regional nexus, bordering five countries with which it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel’s case, a fragile truce. Its alliances extend to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Iran’s Shiite theocracy. Turkey, until recently an ally, has opened its borders to anti-Assad activists and military rebels.

The crackdown has ruined Assad’s reputation, canceling out widespread hopes when he took power in 2000 that he might transform his late father’s stagnant dictatorship into a modern state. Instead, Assad has reverted to the same tactics that have kept his family in power for more than 40 years, using fear and brute military force to try to break the popular revolt against his autocratic rule.

Three residents of the Lebanese border village of Serhaniyeh showed reporters a long sand dune barrier along the frontier where they said Syrian troops laid mines. Ahmed Diab, 26, said several trucks carrying about a 100 soldiers arrived in the area last Thursday and spent the entire day planting mines on the side of the barriers that is toward Lebanon.

“Since they planted the mines, no one dares to go to the border line,” said Diab.

There have been at least three cases this year of Syrian dissidents being snatched off the streets in Lebanon and spirited back across the border, Lebanese police say.

The abductions have raised alarm among some in Lebanon that members of the country’s security forces are helping Assad’s regime in its crackdown on protesters, effectively extending it into Lebanon.

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