Syria said on Tuesday it had reached a deal with an Arab League committee tasked with finding a way to end seven months of unrest and starting a dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
State media reported the deal, without giving details, saying an official announcement of the agreement would be made at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday.
The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Assad’s crackdown on an uprising which erupted in March against his rule, inspired by revolutions which have toppled three Arab leaders this year.
The government blames militants who it says are armed and financed from abroad for the violence and says they have killed 1,100 members of the security forces.
Arab League ministers met Syrian officials in Qatar on Sunday to seek a way to end the bloodshed.
Arab diplomats said the ministers proposed that Syria release immediately prisoners held since February, withdraw security forces from the streets, permit deployment of Arab League monitors and start a dialogue with the opposition.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the ministerial committee, also said Assad must launch serious reforms if Syria were to avoid further violence.
A Lebanese official with close ties to the Syrian government said Syria had put forward its own proposals to the Arab League.
“The Syrian authorities want the opposition to drop weapons, the Arab states to end their funding for the weapons and the opposition, and an end to the media campaign against Syria,” the official told Reuters.
It was not clear how much those demands were reflected in the final agreement announced by Syria’s state media.
The United States said it welcomed efforts to put a stop to violence in Syria but it still believed Assad should step down.
Many in Syria’s opposition have ruled out any dialogue with Assad while the violence continues.
Omar Idlibi, a member of the grassroots Local Coordination Committee and member of the National Council, said the opposition wanted to see details of the agreement.
“We fear that this agreement is another attempt to give the regime a new chance to crush this revolution and kill more Syrians,” he said.
“It helps the Syrian regime to remain in power while the demands of the people are clear in terms of toppling the regime and its unsuitability even to lead a transitional period.”
Assad told Russian Television on Sunday he would cooperate with the opposition, but in another interview he warned Western powers they would cause an “earthquake” in the Middle East if they intervened in Syria, after protesters demanded outside protection to stop the killing of civilians.
Syria sits at the heart of the volatile Middle East, sharing borders with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
“It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake,” he said. “Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?”
Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Rosalind Russell