18 killed in Syria, as opposition denounce Arab League decision

18 killed in Syria, as opposition denounce Arab League decision

Syrian troops killed 18 people Monday and arrested more than 30 others, as the government's crackdown continued on pro-democracy protesters across the country, activists told dpa.

Meanwhile, opposition activists denounced a decision by the Arab League to beef up its observer mission to Syria, rather than referring the country to the UN Security Council.

"18 people were killed and several others were wounded in the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood in Homs when Syrian security forces fired at protesters after noon prayer," Omar Homsi a Syrian activist based in the restive province, told dpa by phone.

A delegation from the Arab League observer mission, still in their vehicle, fled the area after the shooting, Homsi said.

About 165 Arab League observers are currently stationed across Syria to monitor the implementation of a League plan for ending ten-months of violence.

Earlier, Syrian troops carried out a house-to house search in an area on the edge of the capital Damascus, arresting at least 30 people.

Syria has been gripped by an uprising calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since March. The UN has estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

Meanwhile, a group of alleged dissidents from Syria's ruling Baath Party, have declared a "coup" against the party's leadership, saying they would join the Syrian uprising against al-Assad, according to a leaked statement issued Monday in London.

The group, calling itself the neo-Baath party announced "the formation of its leadership in Syria and joining the people's 10-month uprising to confront tyranny in order to establish a democratic, plural, and civil state."

The statement called for a return to the ideological goals rooted in "national unity, freedom, and democracy," and urged members of the Baath party, which has ruled Syria since 1963, to rise up against the "corrupt" leadership.

They called on the army to withdraw from the streets, and for the formation of a new constitution and national unity government as well as the setting of dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.

On Sunday an Arab League committee which met to discuss the situation in Syria said it would increase the number of monitors and give them more resources, ignoring calls to end what pro-democracy protesters and campaigners say is "a failing mission which only gives time for the regime to kill more people."

The move prompted the Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a group of activists organizing protests, to reject the Arab League decision.

"This decision puts the killer and the victim on the same line," the Dubai-based television station Al Arabiya on Monday quoted the statement as saying.

The statement called on the Arab League to meet its responsibility towards the Syrian people by: "Immediately announcing that the Arab observers have failed in their mission, referring the Syrian file to the UN Security Council, paving the way for imposing a no-fly zone and establishing a safe corridor for protecting the military defectors."

Some Syrian opposition groups hope that a failure of the Arab League mission might open up the possibility of a foreign military intervention similar to the one that toppled Libya's late leader Moamer Gaddafi last year.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI called for a "fruitful dialogue" between political forces in Syria.

"I pray for a rapid end to the bloodshed and the beginning of a fruitful dialogue between the political forces, encouraged by the presence of independent observers," he told 160 ambassadors to the Vatican in a speech.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International issued an 80-page report Monday and warned of the continued violence in the Middle East region.

Amnesty said despite great optimism in North Africa at the toppling of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, "these gains had not yet been cemented by key institutional reforms to guarantee that the same kinds of abuses would not be repeated."

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