Syria inks deal to allow Arab League monitors into the country

But sanctions will stay in place. Reuters:

Syria agreed on Monday to let Arab League observers into the country to monitor implementation of a deal it agreed last month to pull troops from protest-hit towns, free political prisoners and start talking to dissidents.

However, the executive head of the League said after the signing of a protocol on foreign observers that there was no immediate plan to lift sanctions that were imposed when Damascus at first refused outside monitors. Nabil Elaraby said observers would now determine whether Syria's government was complying.

"The protocol is a mechanism to go to Syria and move freely to ensure the implementation of the Arab initiative on Syria. What counts is good faith in implementation," Elaraby, the Arab League secretary-general, said. An advance party would head to Syria this week to prepare for the arrival of monitors.

President Bashar al-Assad's administration broadly agreed last month to the Arab League peace initiative aimed at defusing a violent confrontation that has left more than 5,000 dead.

But a refusal to let in outside observers had prompted other Arab states to impose sanctions. And Assad's opponents have complained that troops are still present in some cities, fighting with Assad's opponents, while other elements of the peace accord have also not been implemented in full.

Speaking of lifting the Arab League sanctions, Elaraby told a news conference after the signing in Cairo: "This has not happened, as that would require another meeting."

He also said a meeting of Arab foreign ministers planned this week, and which had been due to discuss action against Damascus, would be "indefinitely postponed."

This is significant but hardly a game changer. President Assad has been insisting that opposition to his regime comes from terrorists and "armed gangs." This is true to some extent now that defectors from the army have begun to organize and attack his troops.

But the bulk of protestors are civilians who can't stomach the regime anymore. The two flashpoints in recent weeks - Homs and Hama - have seen massive demonstrations and indiscriminate firing by Assad's troops. It is not likely that the Arab League observers will be able to do anything about the killings in those two hot spots unless Assad withdraws his troops.

And that isn't very likely.