Arab leaders on Thursday called on increased dialogue between Syrian opposition leaders while urging a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria at a landmark summit in Baghdad.
In a closing statement on Thursday, the Arab officials said that Syrian opposition groups need to have united goals, while Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Araby said the conflict in Syria is now the “responsibility of the U.N. Security Council.”
Araby also said that there is renewed hope for Syria after Assad’s support for a U.N. peace plan proposed by the U.N.-Arab League’s special envoy Kofi Annan.
The summit on Thursday was opened with a call for peace by Ban Ki-moon.
“It is essential that President Assad put those commitments into immediate effect,” Ban Ki-Moon told the Arab officials.
The plan had stipulated that Assad pull his troops and heavy weapons from cities before peace talks with his opponents. But despite reports that Assad had agreed to the plan on Tuesday, security force violence still continued across the country.
On Thursday, Assad announced again that he backed the plan and would vow to see it become successful.
“The conflict in Syria is on a dangerous trajectory with potential ramifications for the entire region,” the U.N. chief added.
While regional officials wanted to tackle a wide variety of issues, ranging from the Arab-Israel conflict to jumpstarting the bloc’s economies, the summit was firmly focused on Syria, where monitors say nearly 10,000 people have died in a year-long revolt against Assad’s rule.
Even as the summit got underway, Syrian security forces assailed rebel strongholds across the country, a day after Assad’s regime made clear it would not abide by any Arab League initiatives.
At least 43 people were killed across the country on Thursday by security force gunfure, according to Local Coordinating Committees in Syria.
Coinciding with the Arab summit’s call for the Syrian opposition to unite, Syria’s armed rebels announced on Thursday a new local command structure that aims to bring together disparate groups inside the country under the command of defected officers exiled in neighboring Turkey.
“We declare the formation of the joint command of the Free Syrian Army in Syria to be coordinated with the leadership of the Free Syrian Army outside (the country),” a Paris-based spokesman for the Supreme Rebel Military Council, Fahad al-Masri, said in a statement.
The move, which names five colonels in the flashpoint provinces of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor and Damascus, was the latest in a string of attempts to unify armed opposition groups who have been fighting to oust President Assad.
At the summit, Tunisian President Munsif al-Marzouqi, sworn as the country’s first elected president since Tunisia’s uprising last year, strongly objected to military intervention in Syria and arming the Syrian opposition.
“The way out from the Syria crisis is the “Yemeni solution,” Marzouqi said in reference to a Gulf-brokered deal to oust the former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Hot topics: Iran, Palestine, Sudan
Nine Arab League leaders met the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday, including the emir of Kuwait, the only high-ranking Gulf Arab leader to take part and the only such visitor since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, on the first visit by a Kuwaiti head of state in more than 22 years, said “the Syrian government should stop all forms of violence against its people.”
“We believe that the Arab initiative is the only solution for the Syria crisis,” he added.
Meanwhile, on the topic of Israeli-Palestinian ties, the Kuwaiti emir called on the “the international community to take the necessary measures against Israel’s crimes.”
On the subject of continuing Israeli settlement action in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “Israel is committing an ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem against Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti premier also discussed the international heated debate on Iran’s nuclear program.
“Iran has the right to develop nuclear power for non-violent purposes,” the Kuwait emir said, adding: that Iran should “respond positively to the international efforts to end the crisis on its nuclear program.”
The United States and its Western allies believe Iran is working towards a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies that, saying its atomic program is exclusively peaceful.
Israel has brandished the threat of possible military action against Iran’s nuclear sites, while the United States has put its energies into sanctions and diplomacy but has not ruled out the military option.
Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told the Arab summit that Sudan seeks good relations with newly-independent South Sudan,
Bashir spoke after border clashes this week sparked international alarm.
“We are committed to go forward in resolving these pending issues with our southern neighbors, through understanding, to reach good relations,” Bashir told the gathering.
Iraqi premier, Maliki, hosted Baghdad’s first Arab League summit in two decades.
He warned his fellow Arab leaders on Thursday that al-Qaeda may benefit from uprisings in the region by finding new areas in which to operate.
“The main thing we are afraid of is that al-Qaeda will find new cracks (to operate) after it was defeated in Iraq, in Arab countries that are witnessing important developments,” Maliki said in a speech at an Arab summit in Baghdad.
Regional tensions reverberated when a rocket exploded near the Iranian embassy in Baghdad on the edge of the fortified Green Zone, where leaders met under extremely tight security in a Saddam Hussein-era palace.
“The blast happened close to the Iranian embassy. The windows of the embassy have been shattered, but there are no casualties,” a senior Iraqi security source said.
Also, two other rockets struck central and western Baghdad, Reuters news agency reported.
Iraq has deployed 100,000 security forces in an effort to prevent attacks on the summit, and officials have closed down swathes of roads and mobile networks and shut down airspace.