Syria stalls Arab League as death toll mounts

Assad regime says it will sign deal to end violence soon, after League deadline passes, but violent crackdown continues.

Arab League 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Arab League 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
BEIRUT - An increasingly isolated Syria imposed retaliatory sanctions on former friend Turkey, but said on Monday it might agree "soon" to an Arab peace plan to avert penalties from Arab states over its eight-month crackdown on popular unrest.
In a display of muscle that could be intended to deter any idea of foreign military intervention in a crisis which has killed at least 4,000 people, the army staged a big exercise with missiles, rockets, tanks and helicopters.
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Top generals watched the war games and state television made it their headline news story, as the death toll mounted.
Five civilians were killed by security forces in Homs, the country's third largest city, according to the activist website Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Four died when troops fired on a funeral procession and one man was shot at a hospital. A youth died of gunshot wounds sustained at the weekend.
In southern Deraa province, three members of the security forces were shot dead by army defectors in front of the Dael courthouse, the website reported. The corpse of Ismail Aqla al-Amri, 35, was handed to back relatives in Deraa, a victim of state torture, it said.
Already hit by economic sanctions from the United States and Europe, Syria was punished last month by regional countries, with sanctions announced by the Arab League and imposed by Turkey, once President Bashar Assad's ally.
Syria responded to Turkish sanctions by imposing a tariff of 30 percent on its imports and prohibitive duties on fuel and freight. State news agency SANA quoted a pro-Assad economist as saying Turkey would be "the biggest loser".
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The Arab League's sanctions have yet to take effect. It has repeatedly extended deadlines for Damascus to agree to a peace plan that would see Arab monitors oversee its withdrawal of troops from towns. The latest expired on Sunday.
Foreign Minister spokesman Jihad Makdesi said Damascus was still looking at the plan.
"The protocol is intended to be signed soon," he said. "The Syrian government has responded positively to the draft protocol ... I am optimistic, although I await the Arab League response first."
Syria says the Arab proposal to admit observers infringes its sovereignty, and has asked for clarification. It has stalled more than once and reneged on promises to rein in its forces.
SANA expressed regret mixed with defiance of sanctions.
"The Arab League sanctions ... have been a shock for every Syrian and Arab citizen ... as these sanctions came from sisterly countries," it said. "Syria will overcome those sanctions by virtue of its strategic location and the diversity of its production sectors," the state agency added.
Syria's Arab neighbours Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan have all said they would not join a trade sanctions campaign.