Syrian army agrees truce with rebels in town near Damascus
The Syrian army on Wednesday struck a ceasefire deal with rebels in the town of Zabadani near the capital Damascus, opposition activists said, dpa reported.
Tanks started to withdraw from the outskirts of the small town near the border with neighbouring Lebanon after the army and the rebels agreed on the truce, the first such move in the 10-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Town leaders reached the deal with Deputy Defence Minister Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law, activists said. The rebels include many army defectors as well as civilians who picked up arm in recent months after the largely peaceful protests became more violent.
"We do not know how long this ceasefire will last," activist Ahmad al-Saeed told dpa by phone from Zabadani. "But under the deal, the defectors are to withdraw from the streets while the government troops are to end their siege of the town."
The truce ends five days of fighting over control of the town, where activists said more than 50 soldiers and dozens of rebels were killed.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government, which has blamed the violence on armed "terrorist gangs."
Footage posted on YouTube showed a destroyed tank with the voice of a man saying it was attacked by rebel fighters in Zabadani.
Meanwhile, Syrian soldiers shelled the restive city of Daraa near the border with Jordan, killing five people, activists said. Government forces also arrested 40 people in the area, including 10 women and two children, according to activists.
The Arab League reached an agreement with the Syrian government on extending by another month the mandate of an observer mission monitoring implementation of a peace plan, an Arab diplomat based in Beirut told dpa. The mission's mandate expires on Thursday and Arab foreign ministers will discuss a report by the mission this weekend.
Some 165 Arab observers arrived in Syria end of December to verify if the Syrian government was implementing an Arab League plan that called on it to end violence against protesters, release prisoners and open talks with the opposition.
Syria's state-run media on Wednesday accused Qatar of arming and financing the rebels, who have been launching increasingly significant attacks against government targets.
The accusation came after the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, said in an interview last week that some Arab countries should send troops to Syria to stop the violence.
"Qatar's call to send Arab troops to the country falls within the framework of the negative role played by Qatar since the start of this crisis through the financing of armed groups," the Tishrin newspaper said.
Arab foreign ministers will discuss Qatar's proposal during a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.
More than 5,000 people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted in March, according to the United Nations. The government says some 2,000 soldiers and policemen were killed in the violence.