| 21.12,11. 06:58 AM |
Up to 150 Syrians Dead in New Violence, Monitors to Arrive Thursday
At least 100 Syrian army deserters were killed or wounded in new clashes Tuesday as Damascus faced demands to halt its bloody nine-month crackdown on dissent a day after signing an Arab peace plan.
The Arab League said an advance team of observers would head Thursday to Damascus to lay the ground for monitors overseeing the plan, as Western powers and Gulf monarchs piled the pressure on Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which provided the casualty figures, also said 36 civilians were killed around the country, 23 of them in the northwestern province of Idlib where the deserters lost their lives.
"After clashes that broke out this morning with the regular army, 100 deserters were besieged then killed or wounded between the villages of Kafruwed and al-Fatira" in the Idlib district of Jabal al-Zawiya, the rights group said.
"Dozens of civilians, including many activists, are also surrounded by the Syrian army in Kafruwed," the Observatory said in a statement received by Agence France Presse, quoting activists on the ground.
It also said 14 members of the security forces were killed in southern Daraa province, where the protests broke out in mid-March.
The Observatory reported on Monday that up to 70 deserters were gunned down as they tried to flee their military posts in the Idlib towns of Kansafra and Kafruwed.
It also urged Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi to "intervene immediately to end this eventual massacre."
Arabi's deputy Ahmed Ben Helli told reporters in Cairo that "an advance team (of observers) will head to Damascus on Thursday."
The team would include security, legal and administrative observers, with human rights experts expected to follow, and would be headed by fellow assistant secretary general Samir Seif al-Yazal.
The Arab bloc has also named General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi -- former head of Sudanese military intelligence and state minister for security arrangements -- to head the mission, said Ben Helli.
After weeks of prevaricating, Syria on Monday signed a deal at Arab League headquarters in Cairo to allow in observers as part of a broader plan to end months of deadly violence.
Damascus has pledged to cooperate fully with the terms of the agreement.
But the promise seemingly failed to persuade many world powers.
Rulers of the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council on Tuesday urged Syria to immediately halt its "killing machine" as well as end the bloodshed and "lift all signs of armed conflict."
The United States also expressed doubt that Syria was genuine in its promise to allow in observers.
"A signature on a piece of paper from a regime like this, that has broken promise after promise after promise, means relatively little to us," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
The observer mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2, which also calls for a halt to the violence, releasing detainees and the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.
But despite signing the accord, Syria has failed to convince either the opposition or Western governments pushing for tough U.N. action that it is willing to follow up its words with action on the ground.
"Violence must immediately end, the military withdraw, political prisoners be released and unhindered humanitarian access be granted," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
"We will therefore judge the agreement of the Syrian leadership with the Arab League not by its words but only by actions, namely their immediate implementation," he added.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was "deeply worried" about the violation of human rights and has called on Damascus to stop violence against civilians as well as against army deserters, the German government said.
The opposition Syrian National Council charged that Damascus's acceptance of observers was merely a "ploy" to head off a threat by the pan-Arab bloc to go to the U.N. Security Council.
"It's all about implementation," said Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged his government's full cooperation with the observer mission and expressed hope the bloc would lift sweeping sanctions it imposed on Damascus last month.
"Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers' mission from the Arab League," Muallem said on Monday.
Syria blames the unrest on "armed terrorist groups" -- not peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and rights groups -- and Muallem said he expected the observer mission to vindicate that position.
On Monday the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Syria, where the U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March.
Syria meanwhile introduced a law imposing the death penalty on anyone arming "terrorists", state media reported Tuesday.