Syrian forces kill 20, despite deal with Arab League

Syrian forces kill 20, despite deal with Arab League

Pro-democracy activists on Thursday accused Syrian security forces of killing at least 20 people and of carrying out some 2,000 arrests across the country, a day after the Damascus government brokered a deal with the Arab League to end violence in Syria, DPA reported.

Tank shelling, which had started at dawn, killed 20 people in the restive town of Homs and wounded more than 50 others, activists based in Lebanon told dpa.

Some of the wounded crossed the border into Lebanon to get treatment, fearing they might be killed by security forces if they were admitted into a Syrian government hospital, one activist said.

According to a Lebanese security source, Syrian border guards fired heavy machinegun fire on the northern Lebanese side of the border to prevent the wounded from escaping.

The Arab League plan, which was agreed upon on Wednesday in Cairo, forsees a complete halt to the violence, the release of protesters who have been detained since February, the withdrawal of forces from areas where there have been armed clashes, and granting access to delegates from the 22-member body and the international media.

Omar Idlibi, an activist based in Lebanon, said security forces had also carried out a wide-scale arrest operation in the Homs and Idlib provinces, as well as in areas on the outskirts of Damascus, rounding up some 2,000 people.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was pressing Syria for wider access to detainees.

The Syrian state-run Al Akhbariyeh television said the authorities might release some of the detainees before the Muslim Al Adha Holiday, which falls on November 7th.

A Syrian activist who had just arrived in Beirut from the province of Homs told dpa that the Syrian regime was likely stalling for time and that none of the measures foreseen by the Arab League deal had been implemented so far.

"There are more than 17 army checkpoint still at the entrance of the province of Homs, until this morning they were still there," said Nabil, who preferred to use this codename for security reasons.

He said he had managed to leave Homs at dawn before the shelling started, but refused to say how he got into Lebanon.

"The situation in Homs is miserable, people cannot get out of their houses to buy daily goods, unless they ask the permission of the pro-regime intelligence officer in charge of their neighborhood. People are simply under house arrest," said the 27-year-old man.

Al-Assad's opponents expressed scepticism that the regime will abide by the Arab League plan and reiterated that the bloodbath should stop before any dialogue starts.

"The regime has accepted the Arab initiative out of fear of Arab isolation, its weakness and lack of options. But its acceptance does not mean it will respect its clauses," said Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Paris-based Syrian National Council, which groups major opposition figures.

Defying Thursday's violence and random arrests, the Syrian opposition has called for new Friday protests under the slogan of "God is Great ... Do Not Believe the Regime."

The continued violence prompted European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to urge Syria to implement "fully and rapidly" the Arab League plan.

"It is now vital that the commitments made by the Syrian authorities to the Arab League are followed through fully and rapidly, under Arab scrutiny," she said in a statement.

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