Eleven killed in Syria on eve of Arab deadline

AMMAN Fri Nov 18, 2011 6:11pm EST

1 of 4. Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Homs November 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria is seeking changes to a planned mission to monitor its implementation of an Arab League peace initiative, the group's chief said on Friday, on the eve of a deadline for Damascus to take steps to end months of bloodshed.

Activists said security forces killed 11 people after weekly prayers, in the latest violence in the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad, which the United Nations says has killed at least 3,500 people since March.

The Arab League has suspended Syria and set the Saturday deadline for it to comply with the Arab peace plan, which entails a military pullout from around restive areas, threatening sanctions unless Assad acts to halt the violence.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said the organization was studying a letter from Syria which "included amendments to the draft protocol regarding the legal status and duties of the monitoring mission of the Arab League to Syria."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he doubted Syria would respond positively to the Arab League initiative. But he said any international intervention must not be unilateral and should be mandated by the United Nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feared the country could slide into civil war.

"I think there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition that is, if not directed by, certainly influenced by defectors from the army," she told NBC news in Indonesia, where she was attending a regional summit.

However, she did not foresee the global community intervening in the same way as it did in Libya. "There is no appetite for that kind of action vis-a-vis Syria," she said, pointing to moves by the Arab League and Turkey.

WORKING WITH THE OPPOSITION

Juppe, speaking alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, said France was ready to work with the Syrian opposition and that tougher sanctions were needed on Damascus.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague will meet Syrian opposition representatives in London next week in what officials characterized as an intensification of contact with Assad opponents.

A Foreign Office source said Britain was "a long way off" from recognizing the Syrian National Council or Syrian opposition groups as a government-in-waiting or as the legitimate alternative to Assad.

"What they have to do is come together and form a coherent unified vision of the Syria they want of the future, particularly around the transition period and how to get there," the source said.

Sanctions already imposed by the European Union and the United States are starting to bite: On Friday, French oil major Total said Syria had halted payments for its oil production activities. Syria's oil exports, worth $400 million a month, a vital source of government earnings, have come to a standstill.

But, at the end of a week in which army deserters attacked an intelligence building near Damascus and waged a deadly battle with Assad's forces, Juppe appeared to call on the opposition not to use army defectors to mount attacks.

"We are making a call to the Syrian opposition. To avoid a civil war, we hope that the army will not be mobilized. This would be a catastrophe," Juppe said.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Syria, including civilians, army deserters and forces loyal to Assad, since it agreed on November 2 to withdraw troops from urban areas and release political prisoners under an Arab League initiative.

Syria says it is trying to implement the deal but has called on neighboring countries to do more to stem a flow of arms to the opposition and end what it says is a media campaign of incitement against Syrian authorities.

"REAL CIVIL WAR"

On Friday activists said security forces shot dead at least 11 people and wounded dozens when they fired to disperse protests in the cities of Deraa, Homs, Hama and the Damascus suburb of Erbin.

Syria's state news agency said two members of the security forces were killed and a third was seriously wounded when a bomb exploded in the province of Hama. Two others were wounded by gunfire in Deraa, it said.

Syria has barred most independent journalists from the country, making it difficult to verify reports from activists or officials. Authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.

Protesters called on foreign countries to expel Syrian ambassadors in support of the opposition.

"Whoever fears God should expel the Syrian ambassador" read a banner at a demonstration in the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising erupted in March.

In the eastern province of Hasaka, protesters shouted, "Why are you afraid? God is with us!" In Homs and Hama, young men dancing arm in arm chanted "The Free Army is our army," referring to army deserters who have waged an escalating campaign of attacks on state targets.

Opposition sources said on Wednesday the Free Syrian Army had killed or wounded 20 security police in an assault on an Air Force Intelligence complex on the outskirts of Damascus, the first of its kind in the revolt against Assad.

Russia, which opposed Western efforts to secure a Security Council resolution condemning Syria which could have led to U.N. sanctions on Damascus, said the raid showed that the conflict in Syria was "similar to real civil war."

France, Britain and Germany plan to ask the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee to approve a resolution condemning the violence in Syria, before putting the non-binding measure to a vote in an assembly plenary session.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on Friday for a cautious response from the international community.

"We are ready to work with the international community but we call for restraint and caution," Putin told reporters, asked whether Russia will support calls for Assad to resign or back a U.N. resolution condemning his actions.

Meeting his French counterpart Francois Fillon in Moscow, Putin chided France for meddling in the affairs of other nations and reiterated a warning against military intervention.

Fillon said that faced with an increasingly "dramatic" situation in Syria, France was "more than ever determined to take action" against a president "who has lost all legitimacy in our eyes by firing on his own people."

Iran's ambassador to Lebanon said growing international pressure would not topple Syria's government.

"These threats will not yield any results," Ghadanfar Roken Abadi said on Friday. "Intensifying these threats...only increases our enthusiasm for popular unity with Syria."

(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Muriel Boselli in Paris, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow and Tim Castle in London; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Andrew Roche and Matthew Jones)

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Comments (6)
RJZNYC wrote:
These reports of the number of people killed and by who they were killed (always accusing the army) are mostly supposition and conjecture. More frequently than not the Western media campaign against the government of President Bashar Al-Assad quotes various opposition groups regarding the number of people killed and that the army killed them. There is a very radical element in the opposition that will kill their fellow citizens and members of the police and army charged with protecting the citizens of Syria.

Why should the government of Syria give in to a small radical minority who is calling for its overthrow when the majority wants to keep the government and are willing to give it time to implement reforms? This scant radical minority is being armed, funded and egged on by extreme Islamic groups and Gulf Arabs as well as Western governments (Turkey included), who want to see the Arab opposition to Israel and the tyrannical attitude to the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries diluted.

Those vehemently opposed to the Assad government (I reject calling them a “regime”) both in the West and Arab Gulf have never forced the opposition to meet with the government for discussions. Instead they have allowed opposition exile groups to meet in Turkey to plan against the Government. How would the Turkish government react if Syria permitted the PKK to convene a resistance group in Syria? What gives France the right to interfere in Syrian domestic politics and demand Assad’s ouster? They are no longer the colonial power of the land.

It appears to me that the West is attempting to compartmentalize the world and in the Middle East that means appointing Turkey as the overlord to return the region to Ottoman style rule.

This will be a tragedy for democratic principles and freedoms for Syrians. This will especially affect the Christian population who has been allowed to witness freely in the country free from oppression and limit on their role in civil society.

The opposition cannot expect to win through violence and destruction. Why is not President Bashar Al Assad given a chance to institute constitutional and civil reform? Bahrain has committed atrocities in greater proportion to Syria but is allowed to slide because of its alliance with the West and Saudi Arabia. Where is the West to be so vehement and vocal in its reaction to the situation in Yemen? Where is the West to question why free elections in Qatar will take 2-years while they expect the Syrian Government to turn things around in a matter of months? Where is the mighty, righteous and “principled” West to decry the repression in Saudi Arabia?

Nowhere!

Why Syria? Because of its relationship with Iran? Is that justification?

Nov 18, 2011 12:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
luckynucky7 wrote:
I am attempting to find one truth in the Post by RJNYC. It is the Arab Nations that are reporting the atrocities of the Al-Assad Government, not just the West. Are you calling them Liars? Everyday we see the Army continuing their assault on a majority-led democratic reform bloodbath on their own people.

I sympathize with those who do not know what Freedom means and ask them to give it a chance in Syria. Arab Nations have asked Al-Assad to put away the guns used on the population. His resistance will keep him in power. A power oppressing the majority of Syrian citizens. Their own Army is in a contradiction of right.

Why Syria? Not Syria, Al-Assad’s country.

Nov 18, 2011 1:27pm EST  --  Report as abuse
PANCHITO6284 wrote:
SOOO reminiscent of Nazi Germany! It’s mind boggling that people (troops) will BLINDLY follow the orders of a despot! “Somethings rotten in Denmark”……..

Nov 18, 2011 1:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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