(photo credit: Reuters)
CAIRO - Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged Damascus on Thursday to
immediately end military operations against "defenseless civilians"
saying the continued violence was claiming innocent victims.
Arab League observers in Syria, depleted by a pullout of their
Gulf Arab colleagues, resumed work on Thursday for the first time in a
week during which a bloody struggle between President Bashar Assad and
his opponents has raged on.
Security forces deployed across the
Damascus suburb of Douma on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said. Douma, a protest hotbed that has recently seen a rise in
rebel activity, was rocked by loud explosions overnight, according to
activists living there.
In an unusually strong statement, Elaraby said he was "concerned over
the continued killing and violence in Syria that has claimed more
"(Elaraby) called for an immediate end to all forms of violence and on
the Syrian government to... stop military and security escalation
against defenseless civilians," the statement issued by his office said.
Elaraby also praised the monitors for working "professionally and
seriously" despite what described as very difficult circumstances.
Arab League, while extending its monitoring mission for another month,
called has called for Assad to step down as part of a transition plan for
which it is seeking UN support.
The British-based Observatory said army
operations under way in parts of the countryside around the capital had
led to fighting on Wednesday night but said there were no signs of
clashes in Douma on Thursday since security forces deployed.
France and Britain have joined
efforts at the United Nations to end Assad's 11-year rule, but Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country remained opposed to
sanctions on Syria and reiterated its opposition to military
"The UN Security Council must support the Arab
League's courageous decisions which are trying to end the repression and
violence in Syria and find a solution to the political crisis," French
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
The Security Council could vote as early as next week on a Western-Arab draft resolution, council diplomats said.
group of Arab monitors planned to visit the troubled Damascus suburb of
Irbin, one of them said. It would be their first outing since Friday.
The mission had put its activities on hold until Arab foreign ministers
met to decide its future.
Gulf Arab states have since withdrawn
their 55 observers from the 165-strong team, saying they were sure "the
bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue". Arab League
officials said they would be replaced and work would go on.
Algerian observer in the team heading to Irbin said he was nervous
because some opposition groups had said they would not cooperate with
the mission. "We don't know what to expect," he told Reuters, declining
to be named.
Another monitor said he was confused about the
purpose of prolonging the mission for another four weeks. "The report
has been written and the (Arab League) decisions have been taken, so
another month to do what? We are not sure," he said.Senior Red Crescent official shot and killed
opposition groups have accused the observer mission, which deployed on
Dec. 26, of giving Assad diplomatic cover to pursue a crackdown on
protesters and rebels in which more than 5,000 people have been killed
since March, by a UN tally.
The head of the Syrian Arab Red
Crescent in the northern town of Idlib was shot dead on Wednesday, the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, in an attack which
Damascus blamed on "terrorists".
State news agency SANA also said a priest was killed by "terrorists" while helping a wounded person in the city of Hama.
opposition Local Coordinating Committees activist group said a total of
27 people had been killed, including six fighters in the rebel Free
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 13 civilians and six army deserters.
state news agency SANA said 14 members of the security forces were
buried on Wednesday, describing them as martyrs killed by "armed
terrorist groups" across the country. It also said five security men had
been killed when a police station was attacked in the town of Apamea in
the central province of Hama.