Syrian Army fights rebels, League eyes UN

The Arab League suspended the work of its monitors on Saturday after calling on Syrian President Assad to step down.

Damascus: Fierce clashes today killed at
least 22 Syrians, mostly soldiers, as opponents of President
Bashar al-Assad sought to up the pressure for UN action after
the Arab League withdrew its observers.

League chief Nabil al-Arabi, departing Cairo for the
United Nations, said he hoped for a change of stance by Russia
and China on a draft Security Council resolution that would
back an Arab plan to end the Syrian crisis.

According to a tally taken from reports by the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media, at least
232 people -- among them 147 civilians -- have been killed
since Tuesday.

That adds to the figure of more than 5,400 given by
the United Nations last month since anti-regime protests
erupted in mid-March.

Arabi has said the decision to suspend the monitoring
mission was taken "because of the upsurge of violence whose
victims are innocent civilians" and after Damascus "chose the
option of escalation."

There was no sign of a let-up in the killing on
Sunday, with activists and state media reporting the deaths of
16 soldiers in two separate attacks and five civilians and a
deserter killed.

The Observatory reported 10 members of the military
killed when their convoy was attacked in Jebel al-Zuwiya in
the northwest, and the official SANA news agency said "an
armed terrorist group" killed six others near Damascus.

The Observatory also reported four civilians and a
deserter killed as soldiers and mutineers clashed in the Ghuta
area near the capital. It said another civilian was killed in
Homs. Moscow today expressed surprise at the Arab League
decision to withdraw its monitors.

Town Besieged

In the mountain town of Rankous, 30 km (20 miles) north of Damascus near the Lebanese border, Assad`s forces have killed at least 33 people in recent days in an attack to dislodge army defectors and insurgents, activists and residents said on Sunday.

Rankous, a town of 25,000 people, has been under tank fire since Wednesday, when it was besieged by several thousand troops, they said.

Arab League foreign ministers are expected to discuss early next month the possibility of withdrawing monitors completely, a League official said.

France which has been leading calls for stronger international action on Syria, said the Arab League decision highlighted the need to act.

"France vigorously condemns the dramatic escalation of violence in Syria, which has led the Arab League to suspend its observers` mission in Syria," the Foreign Ministry said.

"Dozens of Syrian civilians have been killed in the past days by the savage repression taken by the Syrian regime ... Those responsible for these barbarous acts must answer to their crimes," it said.

The Arab League mission was sent in at the end of last year to observe Syria`s implementation of a peace plan, which failed to end the fighting. Gulf states withdrew monitors last week, saying the team could not stop the violence.

In the three rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, activists said they believed the army was trying to prevent insurgents from building a stronghold close to the centre of government.

Elsewhere, activists said they were recovering bodies from the killings of Sunni Muslims in a neighborhood of the flashpoint city Homs, which they blamed on pro-Assad militiamen.

The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in the wave of protests. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.

On Friday, the UN Security Council discussed a European-Arab draft resolution aimed at halting the bloodshed. Britain and France said they hoped to put it to a vote next week.

Russia joined China in vetoing a previous Western draft resolution in October, and has said it wants a Syrian-led political process, not "an Arab League-imposed outcome" or Libyan-style "regime change."


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