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Syria Forces Kill 16 in Clashes Day After Arab League Accord

Syria Accepts Arab Call Aimed at Ending Months of Violence
Pro-democracy protesters, holding a pre-Baath era Syrian flag, demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad's regime outside the Arab League headquarters in Cairo. Photographer: Mohammed Hossam/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian security forces using tank and machine-gun fire killed at least 16 people, a human-rights activist said, a day after the government agreed to an Arab League proposal that calls for an end to attacks on protesters.

The violence began early today, with most of the deaths taking place in the Bab Amro district of the city of Homs, said the activist, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

Arab League officials urged the immediate implementation of the plan, which aims to end eight months of unrest. It calls for the cessation of “all violence from any sources to protect Syrian citizens,” the release of detainees held during protests and clearing cities and neighborhoods of “all military displays,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani told reporters yesterday in Cairo, following the Arab League meeting.

More than 4,000 protesters have been killed during protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The unrest was inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt this year. Assad has blamed the fighting on Islamic militants and foreign provocateurs, and sent security forces to crush the demonstrations.

‘No Signs’

“The Syrian regime so far has shown no signs in the previous months of being interested in any kind of actual dialogue or cease-fire,” Chris Phillips, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said today by phone. “The regime’s dialogue talks a lot about its right to stop all acts of violence from any source. That could be interpreted as a green light to keep using the troops to stop the violence that the regime says is being perpetrated by armed gangs.”

Sheikh Hamad said yesterday that an Arab League committee will continue contacts with the government and opposition groups to prepare for a national dialogue conference within two weeks.

Any dialogue with the government must be about Assad stepping down and should be held in Cairo, not Damascus, Samir Nashar, a member of the executive bureau of the opposition Syrian National Council said. He spoke in a telephone interview after meeting today with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi. The SNC, an umbrella movement uniting several of Syria’s opposition groups, was formed on Oct. 2.

Syrian security forces killed 24 people yesterday, according to Al Arabiya television, which cited unidentified activists.

‘Step Down’

“The regime is using this agreement to simply kill more people,” Qurabi said. “There can only be negotiations about Assad accepting an agreement to step down.”

The Arab League accord calls for the Syrian government to withdraw armored vehicles from major cities, allow foreign media into the country and release all those imprisoned since the uprising in the country began in March.

“What’s important now is for the Syrian side to implement this agreement because this agreement helps calm the situation and resolve the crisis,” Sheikh Hamad said. “If the Syrian government doesn’t implement, then this will require the Arab League to meet and make the appropriate decisions.”

The Syrian government’s “past record suggests their main interest is just about buying time and placating external criticism rather than a newfound commitment to dialogue and solving the crisis,” Phillips said.

Syria’s opposition will see the plan as “tinkering around the edges,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

‘Implement All Points’

Louay Hussein, a prominent opposition figure in Damascus who is a critic of the SNC, said in a phone interview that he supported the agreement.

Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said he hopes “the government will implement all points of the agreement and we also hope those who have split from the army will also refrain from violence.”

‘Implementation of all the points remains key, including the release of 30,000 detainees,” Merei said by phone today from the capital, Damascus.

The Arab League’s efforts at brokering an accord in Syria follow the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi by rebels backed by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign. The NATO air action was authorized by the United Nations after the Arab League asked the west for help in dealing with Qaddafi’s assault on civilians.

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