November 19, 2011 (Al Jazeera)
November 19, 2011 (Al Jazeera)
Three-day deadline set by pan-Arab bloc nears as government fails to stop its violent crackdown on the uprising.
Violence continues to escalate across Syria, as deadline set by the Arab League approaches for the government to end its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The deadline set by the 22-member bloc expires on Saturday, a day after Syrian security forces killed at least 17 civilians, including two children.
Members of the self-styled Free Syrian Army were reported to have killed three members of the security forces.
The latest violence came as international pressure mounted on Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Turkey and the US both raised the spectre of civil war, as thousands of protesters took to the streets on Friday to urge nations to expel Syrian ambassadors, defying a massive security presence.
Syria has agreed “in principle” to allow dozens of Arab observers into the country to monitor implementation of a peace deal agreed earlier this month, but with conditions.
The Arab League said it was examining a Syrian request to make changes to a proposal to send 500 observers to Damascus.
However, critics said Syria is only stalling, trying to defuse international pressure while continuing its violent crackdown on an eight-month-old uprising which the UN estimates has killed more than 3,500 people.
Syria has been told by its Arab peers to end the crackdown against protesters by midnight local time (22:00 GMT on Saturday) or risk sanctions, and the Arab League has already suspended it from the 22-member bloc.
Iran called the suspension “a historic mistake” that would in itself cause civil war.
In another development, William Hague, the British foreign minister, announced on Friday that he would meet Syrian opposition representatives in London next week.
The Syrian opposition members would also meet senior aides of David Cameron, the UK prime minister, at his Downing Street office, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
It said that Frances Guy, the former British ambassador to Lebanon, had been appointed to co-ordinate relations with the Syrian opposition.
The delegation would include members of the opposition Syrian National Council and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, in meetings expected to take place on Monday, a Foreign Office source said.
“We have been having regular contacts with a variety of figures in the Syrian opposition for several months. We are now intensifying these,” the Foreign Office said.
For its part, Francehas called on the UN Security Council to act against Assad’s government, saying the time has come to strengthen sanctions against Syria.
“We must continue to exert pressure,” Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said at a joint news conference on Friday with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, in Ankara.
Davutoglu also increased pressure on Syria, saying that “if there’s no response to the latest attempt of the Arab League, which has Turkey’s support, then certain measures must be taken”.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, called for restraint over the crisis.
“We are calling for restraint and caution. This is our position,” Putin said, a day after his foreign minister had likened the situation in Syria to a civil war.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned on Friday of the possibility of a civil war in Syria that either is directed or influenced by Syrian army defectors.
“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,”Clinton told the US network NBC.
“We’re already seeing that, something that we hate to see because we are in favour of a peaceful … protest and non-violent opposition.”
Activists said on Friday that Syrian troops had shelled two northern villages overnight after an attack by army defectors on forces loyal to Assad, in the first report of such an incident during the eight-month uprising.
Eight villagers were injured when tank shells and heavy mortars fell for three hours on Tal Minnij and Maarshamsheh and surrounding farmland, activists told the Reuters news agency.
“Hundreds of families have left. Electricity and internet services have been cut off,” said one activist who gave his first name as Raed.
Army defectors had earlier attacked a building housing security forces near army depots in the Wadi al-Deif area on the edge of the town of Maaratal-Numaan, 290km north of Damascus, the activists said.
The town, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, has seen regular street protests demanding Assad’s removal and raids by security forces to put down the demonstrations.
In the last few weeks, residents say a growing number of army defectors have been defending Maarat al-Numaan and attacking army patrols and roadblocks.
The authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who they say have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police.
Syria’s official news agency said troops carried out a “qualitative operation” in the region, arresting 58 wanted people and seizing rifles and bomb detonators.
The agency said eight “of the most wanted terrorists” were arrested on Thursday in the central city ofHoms, where tanks have been deployed.