Ahmed Elbatrawy

Arab League suspends Syria mission amid violence


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(CNN) — As many as 34 people were killed in Syria Sunday, according to an opposition activist group, as the Arab League suspended a monitoring mission designed to protect Syrian civilians from government-sponsored violence.

The Syrian Revolution General Council said the dead Sunday included a person who had been killed under torture, a woman, and two children.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, put the number of dead at 29, saying that government troops were out in force in locations including Aleppo University and the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

Twelve people were killed in the Damascus countryside, the group said, along with six in Homs, four in Hama, three in both Idlib and Daraa and one in Damascus.

The reported deaths come a day after opposition sources said at least 98 people were killed.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports from Syria because the government limits the activity of journalists there.

Ali Erfan, senior advisor to Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby, said Sunday that observer activity in Syria has been suspended, and all observers who were outside Damascus have redeployed to the capital.

Some will leave the country, he said. Others will stay on for the moment in Damascus, but they will not be conducting any missions, he said, adding that he did not have details on how many are leaving and how many are staying.

Russia’s foreign minister said earlier Sunday he is in favor of boosting the number of observers in Syria, adding that he did not understand why the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission.

“We should like to understand why this useful instrument is treated in such a way,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to reports in Russian state media.

The Arab League announced Saturday it was suspending its mission because of a sharp increase in violence.

Monitors representing the 22-nation alliance were in Syria to determine whether President Bashar al-Assad’s government is abiding by an agreement with the Arab League to end violence against anti-government protesters.

“I would support an increased number of observers,” Lavrov said.

There were reports Sunday of violent clashes between Syrian troops and rebel forces, made up primarily of military defectors, in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition group. Three people were killed in the violence, the group said.

At least 10 Syrian troops were killed when a roadside bomb targeted a military vehicle in the mountains in the northwest province of Idlib, the Observatory group said. A rebel soldier was killed in clashes between the towns of Bloludan and Zabadani, the group said.

A roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying Syrian troops in a Damascus suburb, killing six soldiers and wounding six others, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Sunday.

Al-Assad’s government has been under international pressure to stop a brutal, months-long crackdown on an anti-government uprising that began last year.

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and members of the Arab League have called on al-Assad to end the violence and step down.

The United Nations last month estimated that more than 5,000 people have died since March, when the government launched a crackdown against demonstrators. Activist groups estimate a higher death toll, with counts near or exceeding 7,000 people.

The opposition has blamed the deaths on government actions. The Syrian government says terrorists are responsible for the casualties.

Diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are considering a draft resolution that calls on al-Assad to step down and transfer power to his vice president.

Lavrov said the Arab League plans to submit new proposals to the U.N. Security Council next week.

“We need to study a report,” he said, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency in Russia.

Russia, which maintains trade relations with Syria, has proposed its own draft U.N. resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence on both al-Assad and the opposition, an option dismissed by the West.

Lavrov said the draft resolution remains up for discussion.

In October, Russia and China issued a rare double veto of a resolution that lacked sanctions but would have condemned the violence in Syria. This latest draft also lacks sanctions, but is tougher than the earlier version, which said nothing about transfer of power.

France stepped up the pressure on Russia on Saturday, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sending a message to his Russian counterpart urging cooperation on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council, the major opposition group in Syria, has called on expatriates to show their solidarity by sitting in front of Russian embassies and consulates starting at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.

There will be a Monday meeting of experts from the missions of the 15 countries on the Security Council.

Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, has dismissed the proposed resolution.

“Syria will not be Libya; Syria will not be Iraq; Syria will not be Somalia; Syria will not be a failing state,” he told reporters.

CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.






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Ahmed Elbatrawy