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Assad warns of 'quake,' Arabs hold Syria talks

31 october 2011, 10:19
President Bashar al-Assad has warned that Western intervention would cause an "earthquake" across the region, as Arab ministers opened talks on Sunday aimed at ending the violence in Syria, AFP reports.

After almost 100 people died in the bloodiest two days of the uprising against his rule, Assad warned of "another Afghanistan" if foreign forces intervened in Syria as they had in Libya.

"Syria is the hub now in this region," Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper quoted Assad as telling one of its journalists in Damascus.

"It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake -- do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?" he asked.

"Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region."

In Doha, meanwhile, an Arab League team opened talks with a Syrian delegation led by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, bolstered by strong support for the bloc's mediation efforts from China, one of two governments with Russia which earlier this month vetoed UN Security Council action against Damascus.

The Arab ministerial delegation led by Qatar aimed to try to reach "serious results and an exit to the Syrian crisis," a statement from the team said.

In talks in Damascus last week, the Arab ministers warned Assad to stop the bloodshed and start meaningful reforms or face an international intervention, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported on Sunday.

Citing well-informed Arab sources, the paper said the delegation told Assad on Wednesday that failure to resolve the crisis within the Arab fold would mean "internationalising" the unrest.

"This would mean Syria should expect a foreign intervention and a painful international blockade on the economy and other aspects," the daily said.

China threw its weight behind the Arab mediation effort, with its Middle East envoy Wu Sike saying he had told Assad in Damascus on Thursday that his regime's deadly crackdown on dissent "cannot continue."

Wu said China supported the Arab League's proposal for Assad's regime to hold talks with dissidents, some of whom he met during his visit to the Syrian capital.

"Syria has to show some flexibility in that regard in order to help the Arab League implement its proposal," he said.

Wu said Assad's regime must "respect and respond to the aspirations and rightful demands of the Syrian people," and abandon the crackdown that has killed more than 3,000 people since mid-March, according to UN figures.

China, along with Russia, vetoed a Western-drafted resolution at the UN Security Council on October 4 that would have threatened Assad's regime with targeted sanctions if it continued its campaign against protesters.

Assad told Russian television on Sunday he expected continued support from Moscow, less than month after President Dmitry Medvedev told the Syrian strongman for the first time to either accept political reform or bow to calls for his resignation.

"First and foremost, we are relying on Russia as a country with which we are bound by strong ties, in the historic perspective," Assad told Moscow's Channel One television.

The Syrian foreign ministry accused the Arab ministerial delegation of stoking dissent, having been influenced by "lies spread by television channels."

It said that in Sunday's talks in Doha, Muallem would inform the delegation of the "true situation in Syria," the official SANA news agency reported.

The Doha talks come as Syrian activists put mounting pressure on the Arab League to suspend Syria's membership in the 22-member bloc.

"Assad's militias have been killing us for eight months. They arrest us and crush us... And you, Arabs, who love rhetoric, what are you doing," the Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the motors of dissent, said in a post on its Facebook page.

The activists called for protests across Syria on Sunday calling for the League to "freeze the membership" of Syria.

At least two people were killed in fresh violence on Sunday, both by snipers in the flashpoint central province of Homs, a human rights group said.

Gunfire from a security checkpoint in the Deir Balaa neighbourhood of Homs city wounded another 10 people, some of them critically, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP in Nicosia.

On Saturday in Homs, 20 Syrian soldiers were killed and 53 wounded in clashes with presumed army deserters, while 10 security agents and a deserter were killed in a bus ambush, the Britain-based watchdog added.

It said at least 12 civilians also died from sniper or machinegun fire in the province.

Funerals were held on Sunday for eight of the security force personnel killed the previous day, the state news agency said.

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