At least 47 killed in Syria, including 14 in ambush

Two-day death toll passes 100 as Assad signs agreement to admit Arab League monitors, rights group says.

By REUTERS
December 20, 2011 22:34
3 minute read.
Syrian protesters near Damascus

Syrian protesters near Damascus 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)

 
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BEIRUT - Nearly 50 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday, an activist group said, two days before Arab League officials were due to arrive to prepare for a monitoring mission assessing Syrian compliance with a plan to stem the bloodshed.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people were killed in fighting with Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the northern province of Idlib and 14 members of his security forces died in a rebel ambush in the south. The overall death toll on Tuesday was at least 47, it said.

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Idlib, on Syria's northern border with Turkey, has seen fierce fighting recently. The Observatory reported that security forces machine-gunned soldiers deserting their army base there on Monday, killing more than 60, and said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles since Sunday.

The state news agency SANA said security forces killed five "terrorists" in Deraa province on Monday night. It also said Assad had decreed the death penalty for anyone caught distributing arms "with the aim of committing terrorist acts."

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told Reuters in Cairo that an advance team would go to Syria on Thursday, with the 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

"It's a completely new mission ... and it depends on implementation in good faith," he said.



Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to accept the monitors who will check its compliance with an Arab plan for an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

"In a week's time, from the start of the operation, we will know (if Syria is complying)," Elaraby said.

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Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply skeptical about Assad's commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule.

France said it hoped the monitors could carry out their mission quickly. But it also said Assad had a record of broken pledges and that Monday's violence showed there "isn't a moment to lose."

"For months we have seen Bashar Assad not keep to commitments he made to his people and he has increased his efforts to play for time in the face of the international community," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations often led by army deserters.

Some opposition leaders have called for foreign military intervention to protect civilians from Assad's forces.

In a show of military power, state television said on Tuesday the air force and navy both held live-fire exercises aimed at deterring any attack on Syria by land or sea.

The Syrian authorities have made it hard for anyone to know what is going on in their troubled country. They have barred most foreign journalists and imposed tight curbs on local ones.

The British-based Observatory said three more people had been killed in violence on Tuesday, two in the city of Homs and one in a village in Idlib province, the scene of a sustained military crackdown in the past three days.

SANA said a captain in the security forces had died of wounds inflicted by "terrorists" a week ago in the city of Hama.

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