Head of Arab mission reaches Syria; 3 killed

Sudanese general in Damascus to check Assad regime's compliance with Arab League plan to end violent crackdown; Army pounds Homs.

Assad hung in effigy 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Assad hung in effigy 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
BEIRUT - A Sudanese general flew to Damascus on Sunday to head an Arab League mission that will check Syria's compliance with an Arab peace plan to halt a nine-month crackdown on unrest in which more than 5,000 people have been killed.
General Mohammed al-Dabi's arrival coincided with fresh violence in the restive central city of Homs and followed twin suicide bombings that killed 44 people in Damascus on Friday.
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Syria has endured daily bloodshed for months as security forces struggle to suppress a popular uprising, at first peaceful but now increasingly violent, against President Bashar Assad whose family has ruled for more than four decades.
In his Christmas Day address, Pope Benedict, leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, called for "an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed".
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Three more people died in Homs on Sunday, where troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles have been in action for weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said one civilian was shot dead and two died of wounds.
The British-based group said 124 people had also been wounded in shelling of the city's rebellious Bab Amro district.
Assad's opponents have voiced skepticism about the Arab mission to monitor a peace plan they say Assad will not honour, given the continuing fierce repression against demonstrators.
The Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed Islamist "terrorists" who they say have killed 2,000 members of the security forces since the unrest flared in March.
Dabi said he had met Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby in Cairo before departing for Damascus, laying down a "road map" for the mission's work, which he promised would be transparent.
In remarks carried on the Egyptian state news agency, Dabi said the mission would meet different groups in Syria, including the armed forces and members of the opposition.
Syrian state media have not reported Dabi's arrival.
The Arab League expects to send a total of 150 monitors to Syria and Elaraby has said it would only take a week to find out if the authorities are respecting the terms of its peace plan.