Arab League monitors in Syria 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters Tv/Handout)
AMMAN - Protests against President Bashar Assad erupted in several
Syrian cities on Friday, activists said, and the Arab League chief said
he feared the bloody unrest could degenerate into a civil war with ill
effects for the wider region.
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Security forces killed one demonstrator in the northwestern town of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
also flared after Friday prayers in some areas of the capital Damascus,
as well as the port city of Latakia, where Arab League monitors had
come under attack from a pro-Assad crowd on Monday. "The people want the
downfall of the regime!" people chanted near a Latakia mosque, one
Syrians determined to end four decades of Assad
family rule have kept up protests since March despite a fierce crackdown
by Assad's military and security forces that the United Nations says
has cost more than 5,000 lives.
Some, including army deserters,
have taken up arms in recent months. Syrian authorities say
foreign-backed "terrorists" have killed 2,000 soldiers and police since
the revolt began.
The most senior Syrian officer to defect to the
opposition told Reuters that desertions were wearing down the army, but
that rebels could take more than a year to topple Assad.
Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheikh said that up to 20,000 soldiers, mostly
majority Sunni Muslims, had left despite "iron controls," although most
were more focused on evading capture by the secret police than on
fighting the security forces.
The revolt is likely to take longer
than those that toppled the autocratic rulers of Libya, Egypt and
Tunisia because Assad retains the loyalty of highly trained and well
equipped forces from his minority Alawite sect, Sheikh said.
we get 25,000 to 30,000 deserters mounting guerrilla warfare in small
groups of six or seven it is enough to exhaust the army in a year to a
year-and-a-half, even if they are armed only with rocket-propelled
grenades and light weapons," he said in a telephone interview from south
Turkey on Thursday.
Video footage posted on the Internet on
Friday showed the burning hulk of an armored personnel carrier on a
street in Homs, a hotbed of protests and armed resistance to Assad. A
voice on the clip said the Free Syrian Army mounted the attack.Violent clashes raise fear of civil war
clashes, now punctuating what began as a non-violent protest movement,
have raised fears of a full-scale conflict in Syria, which also has
Christian and Kurdish minorities.
"Yes I fear a civil war and the
events that we see and hear about now could lead to a civil war," said
Nabil Elaraby, head of the Arab League, which deployed monitors on Dec.
26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan.
"Any problems in Syria will have consequences for the neighboring states," he told Egypt's Al-Hayat television.
which borders Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel, is at the heart
of a conflict-prone Middle East, where its closest allies are Iran and
the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
Elaraby described reports from the chief of the monitoring mission as
"worrying", but said there was "no doubt that the pace of killing has
fallen with the presence of the observers".
That contradicts the view of a senior UN official who told the Security
Council this week that the rate of killings had accelerated to about 40 a
day since the Arab monitors arrived, according to Washington's
ambassador to the world body.
The British-based Observatory said at least 21 people were killed on
Thursday, including seven in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and seven
security force members in Maarat al-Noman.