Arab foreign ministers were set to meet on Sunday to discuss whether to ask the United Nations to help their mission in Syria which has failed to end a 10-month crackdown on anti-government protests in which thousands have died.

The proposal by Qatar is to invite UN technicians and human rights experts to help Arab monitors assess whether Syria is honoring a pledge to stop its crackdown, sources at the Arab League said. A source said it might request that UN staff helping the mission be Arabs.

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The foreign ministers, who will consider an initial report by the monitors, will also discuss measures to allow the mission to operate more independently of the Syrian authorities, media sources at the League said.

The violence has continued since the monitors began working in Syria on Dec. 26, with scores of people reported killed.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Syria was not implementing the deal and monitors could not stay in Syria to "waste time". The Syrian army had not withdrawn from cities and there had been no end to the killing, he said.

Sources at the Arab League said ministers were likely to reaffirm support for the monitors, resisting calls to end what Syrian pro-democracy campaigners say is a toothless mission that merely buys more time for President Bashar Assad to suppress his opponents.

Syria said it was providing the monitors with all the facilities they needed. "What we are looking for is objectivity and professionalism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said last week.

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No one should "rush to verdicts" on the mission's achievements, said the head of the monitoring operations room at the League's headquarters in Cairo, Adnan al-Khudeir. He said the commission overseeing the monitors had the League's full support.

Syria's interior minister said a suicide bomber killed 26 people in Damascus on Friday and vowed an "iron fist" response. Some in the opposition said the government had staged the attack to undermine the pro-democracy movement.

Crowds waving Syrian flags and pictures of Assad gathered on Saturday to bury the victims of the attack.

A cortege of ambulances, lights flashing, bore the flag-draped coffins of victims to a Damascus mosque after driving through streets lined with mourners, state television showed.

Crowds chanted "The people want Bashar Assad!" and "One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!".

Security forces trying to crush anti-Assad protests around Syria killed four civilians in Homs on Saturday, and three people died in Harasta from wounds inflicted on Friday, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

It also said security forces had killed 20 civilians and three army defectors on Friday.

Scores of people have been reported killed since the observers arrived, adding to a death toll that the United Nations says has already topped 5,000 since the uprising erupted in March, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.


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