Syrian secret police defect, Arab deadline passes

A gunfight broke out overnight Saturday after the defectors fled the Airforce Intelligence complex in the center of Idlib city.

Damascus: At least a dozen Syrian secret police have defected from an intelligence compound, activists said, in what appeared to be the first major desertion from a service that has acted as a pillar of President Bashar al-Assad`s rule.

A gunfight broke out overnight Saturday after the defectors fled the Airforce Intelligence complex in the center of Idlib city, 280 km (175 miles) northwest of Damascus.

Ten people on both sides were killed or wounded, the activists said Sunday.

The defections came as the Arab League once again chided Syria for failing to sign up to a league-backed plan to end the violence in Syrian cities.

"We are very clear after the meeting yesterday... We give the Syrians one day, and I hope we will receive the answer from them. But until now I think there has been no answer from Syria," the diplomat said.

The Arab League had told Syrian authorities to sign an initiative to end the military crackdown on popular protests by Sunday, threatening to impose financial and economic sanctions if it does not sign soon.

A senior Arab diplomat at the League said late Sunday that there was no sign Syria had responded to the deadline.

Such deadlines have slipped repeatedly in the past. Damascus complains that its sovereignty would be compromised by the plan, which would require it to admit Arab monitors to ensure that Syria pulled troops out of cities.

"There are letters still being exchanged between the Arab League and Damascus to reach a vision for the protocol... These communications and correspondence are being studied by Damascus," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdesi said in the Syrian capital.

Assad has so far shown no sign of halting the crackdown on protests against his rule.

In Homs`s Sunni district of Bab Amro Sunday, several thousand people encircled the coffin of Khaled al-Sheikh, a 19-year-old protester who residents said was killed in random shooting by the Army on the neighbourhood this week.

Abdelbassel Sarout, a 21-year-old football player, kissed Sheikh`s bloody head as the mostly young crowd of men and women chanted to the beat of drums: "Sleep easy we will continue the struggle... mothers weep for Syria`s youth."

"When we film the protests to send on YouTube, most demonstrators would try to hide their face so they would not be identified by the security police," Wael, a young activist, said. "Khaled was always barefaced, chanting the loudest."

Security forces and militiamen loyal to Assad killed six civilians Sunday, including a father and his two children in a drive-by shooting and a woman university teacher in Homs, activists said.

Syrian authorities say they are fighting foreign-backed "terrorist groups" trying to spark civil war who have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police since March.

Bureau Report

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