Ahmed Elbatrawy

Syria slams Arab League plan

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Cairo (CNN) — The head of Arab League observers in Syria rejected criticisms Monday that his team had failed to stop killing in the country, where thousands of people have died in clashes between government protesters and opposition forces demanding the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said Monday at a news conference in Cairo that the mission was designed not to bring an immediate end to violence but to investigate and observe the situation.

Rising concerns about the government’s violent crackdown prompted the European Commission to widen sanctions Monday against Syrian officials and organizations. The group imposed asset freezes and travel bans to 22 more Syrian officials it said were responsible for human rights violations and eight entities that give financial support to al-Assad’s regime.

“Today’s decision will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the unacceptable violence and repression in Syria,” European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said. “The message from the European Union is clear: The crackdown must stop immediately. We will continue to do all we can to help the Syrian people achieve their legitimate political rights.”

Violence in the country has continued despite the presence of the Arab League team.

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On Monday, five people died and 13 people were wounded when government forces and defectors clashed in Homs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, reported six deaths in Homs and a total of 23 killed across the country Monday after being “targeted by armed terrorist groups.”

The government news agency SANA reported that three of the deaths in Homs were law enforcement personnel. The agency said nine army and law enforcement personnel died in cities across the country.

CNN cannot confirm the claims of violence and deaths, as Syria’s government restricts access by foreign journalists.

Despite the continuing violence, al-Dabi defended his team’s work, saying that they were able to persuade the Syrian government to remove tanks from neighborhoods and to also to reduce the number of military and security teams deployed near demonstrations.

Observers documented 136 deaths and the release of thousands of detainees during the 20-day mission, al-Dabi said.

The Arab League voted Sunday to extend the monitoring mission while it works on a proposal seeking that al-Assad transfer power to his vice president following the formation of a national unity government.

The group’s plan calls for the government to start talks with the opposition within two weeks and the formation of a new government within two months. A new constitutional council would follow, as would a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The proposal is the clearest statement yet from the Arab League on what the league’s member states would like to see happen in Syria. The league plans to take the idea to the United Nations in a bid to build international support.

The Syrian government roundly rejected the plan, which it views as “blatant intervention in its internal affairs,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. It was unclear if it would accept the monitoring team extension.

The uprising against al-Assad’s regime, and the resulting government crackdown, have engulfed the country for more than 10 months. The United Nations last month estimated more 5,000 people have died since March. Opposition groups put the death toll at more than 6,000.

The Arab League has called on al-Assad’s regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders, including the international news media, to travel freely in Syria.

Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said the Syrian government has not complied with some parts of its agreement with the league aimed at ending the violence. But Arab League monitors have seen some aspects of the situation improve, he said.

“The presence of the Arab monitors provided security to opposition parties, which held an increase in number of peaceful protests … in the areas where the monitors were present,” el-Araby said.

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said observers haven’t been allowed to see the full situation in Syria.

“The Arab monitors indicated that the regime did not follow protocol, did not release the detainees, did not remove all military tanks, did not allow press to travel freely, did not recognize even once the peaceful protests, and the massacre of Idlib yesterday is proof of that,” he said, referring to the discovery of 30 bodies in that city on Saturday. “The regime let down the Arab League, and Arab nations have the responsibility to respond.”

CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Brian Walker contributed to this report.

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Ahmed Elbatrawy