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Arab League chief warns of civil war in Syria

May 8, 2012 2:46 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2012 9:28 P.M.)
BEIJING (Reuters) - Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi warned on Tuesday rising violence in Syria could tip the strife-torn country into civil war, and expressed support for the peace plan of UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

Al-Arabi also said that an escalation in violence in Syria, where 14 months of bloodshed has claimed more than 9,000 lives, could spill to neighboring countries.

"Escalating military action in Syria will end up leading to a civil war in Syria, which no one wants to see," al-Arabi told reporters at the League office in Beijing. "I don't think the Syrians deserve something like that."

His comments come after the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said fighting had been so intense in parts of Syria that at times the uprising against President Bashar Assad has qualified as a localized civil war.

Al-Arabi said the prospect of more violence "gives impetus to support the Kofi Annan plan to make sure the fighting will stop."

Annan's six-point plan includes a ceasefire, deployment of observers and free access for journalists and humanitarian aid.

About 50 observers and civilian staff have been deployed in Syria, but violence has continued since an April 12 truce.

Al-Arabi also said he would not try to push China to exert more influence on Assad, but called on Beijing to continue supporting Annan's plan.

"China is a country that no one can pressure," said al-Arabi. "The League of Arab States would not try to do that because it would be preaching to the converts."

Al-Arabi met with China's Vice President Xi Jinping, widely expected to be the country's next president, and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Tuesday.

China and Russia have blocked moves in the United Nations to censure Assad, a position which met with outrage from Western and Arab nations. Beijing and Moscow have also welcomed the Syrian leader's reform pledges.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the Arab charge to isolate Syria, although other leading Arab states outside the Gulf such as Egypt, Algeria and Iraq have taken a more cautious approach.
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