Image: Syrians shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Lebanon Friday.
AP
Syrians who were recently injured during clashes in Syria, and Lebanese anti-Syrian regime protesters shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad as they hold an Arabic banner reading "people demand holy war," during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/19/2011 7:23:22 AM ET 2011-12-19T12:23:22

Syria signed up to an Arab peace deal aimed at ending nine months of unrest after Russia advised it to ratify the plan, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Monday.

"They advised us to sign the protocol and we followed their advice," Moallem told a televised news conference in Damascus.

Moscow, a long-time ally of Damascus, stepped up its criticism of President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protests in a draft resolution presented to the U.N. Security Council last week.

The initiative calls for troops to be withdrawn from urban areas, dialogue with the opposition to begin, monitors to be allowed into the country, and the release of political prisoners.

Moallem said the Arab League had accepted amendments requested by Syria.

"The signature of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation between us and the Arab League and we will welcome monitors from the Arab League," Moallem added.

An Arab League official in Cairo confirmed the deal was signed Monday by Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad.

The League had given Syria until Wednesday to sign the deal.

It had warned that if Damascus does not, the League would likely turn to the U.N. Security Council for action to try to end the Syrian regime's crackdown on a 9-month-old popular uprising. Some 5,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N.

Video: Death toll in Syria hits 5,000 (on this page)

Syria had stalled for weeks over signing the protocol on monitors, although it had agreed to other parts of the plan.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and announced sanctions over Assad's previous refusal to sign the deal.

Armed resistance
Armed resistance has emerged in the last two months in Syria, alongside a peaceful protest movement that began in March inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

Loyalist forces, including a pro-Assad militia, have reportedly taken scores of casualties from insurgents in the last few weeks, especially in the northwestern province of Idlib near Turkey and in the central region of Homs.

Story: Syria weighing observers as clashes leave 21 dead

Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry said Monday that it supported a new, beefed-up draft resolution on the violence in Syria presented by Russia to the U.N. Security Council last week.

The proposal offers a chance for the 15-nation panel to overcome deadlock and deliver its first statement of purpose on Assad's crackdown.

The council has been split, with Western countries harshly critical of Syria pitted against Russia, China and non-aligned countries that have avoided blaming Assad for the violence.

Long-time Syrian ally and arms supplier Russia took a step closer to the Western position last Thursday when it presented a surprise draft resolution at the United Nations which stepped up its criticism of the bloodshed in Syria.

"If there are discussions at the Security Council on the Syrian situation they should be conducive toward ameliorating the tense state of affairs, pushing political dialogue, bridging differences and maintaining peace and stability in the region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

"China supports the Russian proposal and applauds Russia's hard work at trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, and is willing to maintain contacts with all sides on this," he told a regular news briefing, without elaborating.

China has played a low-key role in the turmoil that has swept the Middle East and North Africa, but it has also moved swiftly to normalize ties with governments which have been overthrown by popular revolts, such as in Libya.

Syrian authorities blame armed gangs for the violence and say 1,100 soldiers and police have been killed.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Death toll in Syria hits 5,000

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