(Reuters) – More than 100 people have been killed in Syria, rights activists said, as the Arab League announced an advance party would be sent to the country this week to pave the way for monitors who will try to help end nine months of violence.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday that more than 60 army deserters had been shot dead by machinegun fire as they tried to flee their base, citing accounts from wounded survivors. It also counted 40 civilians shot dead across Syria in the crackdown on protests. The British-based observatory said three soldiers had died in fighting with armed rebels backing the opposition in Idlib province. The state news agency SANA said security forces there had killed at least one “terrorist” and wounded several.
The bloodshed occurred the same day Syria agreed to let Arab states monitor its compliance with an Arab League peace agreement aimed at stopping violence against anti-government protesters.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died since the protests began. Syria says more than 1,100 security personnel have been killed by foreign-backed “armed terrorist gangs”.
The Arab League, which has imposed economic sanctions on Syria, had threatened to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council.
However, the executive head of the League said after the signing of a protocol on foreign observers that there was no immediate plan to lift sanctions that were imposed when Damascus at first refused outside monitors. Nabil Elaraby said observers would now determine whether Syria’s government was complying.
The League would prepare a mission to monitor compliance with an agreement that calls for troops to withdraw from cities where protests have been held, for political prisoners to be freed, and for a dialogue with opposition groups, most of whom are set on following the example of Egypt and others in ending decades of one-man rule.
Syrian opposition leaders dismissed the agreement as a new stalling tactic by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and called instead for foreign military intervention to stop Syria’s crackdown on a nine-month-old pro-democracy protest movement.