At least 6 killed as Assad fights dissent in Syria

Bloodshed continues unabated as Arab League set to decide on fate of observer mission in restive country.

By REUTERS
January 20, 2012 18:35
2 minute read.
Syrian anti-Assad protest.

Syrian anti-Assad protest 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

AMMAN - At least six people were killed in Syria on Friday and the bodies of six others were turned over to their families, activists said, two days before the Arab League decides whether to keep monitors there despite their failure to halt bloodshed.

Security men were out in force in several restive towns and cities to counter protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad that often erupt after weekly Muslim prayers, activists said, while supporters of the Syrian president demonstrated in Damascus.

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Hundreds of people have been killed since the monitors arrived in Syria, where an armed insurgency has grown in recent months, contesting Assad's grip on several parts of the country.

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Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo on Sunday to decide whether to prolong the observers' one-month mandate, which expired on Thursday.

Supporters say the mission reduced violence somewhat, but critics say it provided diplomatic cover for Assad to pursue a crackdown that the United Nations says has already killed more than 5,000 people.

The Syrian authorities accuse foreign-backed militants of killing 2,000 members of the security forces since the unrest began in March, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "ferocious repression" of Assad's opponents by the authorities was dragging Syria towards chaos and would only benefit extremists.

He urged the Arab League to intensify its monitoring efforts and called on the UN Security Council, so far paralyzed by divisions over Syria, to act.

Security forces prevented prayers for the fifth Friday in a row at the Omari mosque in the southern town of Deraa, where the anti-Assad revolt began 10 months ago, activists said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five civilians had been killed in gunfire around the country and a security officer had been assassinated in Deraa, possibly because he had changed sides. In the northwestern province of Idlib, security forces returned the bodies of six people who had disappeared two days earlier, it said.

Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, head of the monitoring mission, was expected to fly to Cairo, headquarters of the Arab League, on Saturday to report on what his 165-strong team has witnessed since it deployed in Syria on Dec. 26.

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, was also due in the Egyptian capital, where he planned to meet the League's secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the League should publish Dabi's report in full and should urge the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions, including an arms embargo, to stop the killing in Syria.


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