23 killed as Arab League gives Syria new deadline to endorse peace plan

23 killed as Arab League gives Syria new deadline to endorse peace plan

At least 23 people were killed in Syria on Thursday as the Arab League gave President Bashar al-Assad a new ultimatum to endorse a plan to stop his crackdown on pro-democracy protests and allow Arab monitors in, or face economic sanctions, dpa reported.

It said if Syria did not accept the peace plan by Friday, Arab finance ministers would meet on Saturday to look into imposing sanctions that would include suspending trade ties and dealings with Syria's central bank and freezing government assets.

Arab League foreign ministers said in a statement after a meeting in Cairo that they would make sure that any future sanctions would "not affect the Syrian people."

A deadline by the Arab League for Syria to accept its plan to end more than eight months of violence expired on Saturday. The plan calls on Syria to withdraw troops from cities and towns, release political prisoners and open dialogue with the opposition.

The Arab League suspended Syria on November 12 until al-Assad stops his regime's crackdown on protesters demanding he step down. Over 3,500 people have been killed in the conflict, which appears to be sliding toward a civil war.

"The Syrian government and all opposition groups are invited to hold a national dialogue to agree on the formation of a national unity government for a transitional phase," the statement said.

The Arab foreign ministers are to meet again on Syria on Sunday, it said.

Syrian activists in Beirut said around 50 tanks and armoured vehicles fired anti-aircraft guns into a farmland in the area of Rastan, north of the flashpoint city of Homs, where army defectors are believed to be hiding.

They added that 11 people were killed in clashes between loyalists and defectors.

The activists also said that shelling by government forces on areas near the dissident province of Homs killed 12 civilians, including a woman.

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