Violence grips Syria as Arab leaders mull peace plan
At least 21 people, including two high-ranking army officers, were reportedly killed Thursday in violence across Syria, while the country's crisis was dominating an Arab League summit being held in Iraq, DPA reported.
Syrian rebels intensified their hit-and-run attacks against government troops Thursday, killing two colonels in the centre of the country's largest city Aleppo, opposition activists said.
State media confirmed the deaths of the two officers, blaming it on "terrorists."
"Armed terrorists opened fire on the two colonels as they were on their way to work," the official news agency SANA said.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly accused what they call "armed terrorist gangs" of destabilizing the country since a pro-democracy uprising started against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
In the restive province of Hama, rebels attacked an army truck and killed two soldiers, activists said, while civilians were reported killed in the central province of Homs.
"At least 13 civilians were killed in the renewed shelling on the areas of Al-Khalidiyeh, Baba al Sibaa, Bab Dreyeb in Homs," activist Omar Homsi told dpa by phone.
Arab leaders, meeting for a major summit in Iraq, were expected Thursday to endorse a United Nations-backed plan calling for a full ceasefire in Syria and immediate humanitarian access to civilians trapped in the restive areas.
The plan also calls for a "serious national dialogue" between the Syrian government and opposition, while stopping short of demanding that al-Assad step down. Syria accepted this plan on Tuesday.
At the Baghdad summit, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called on the Syrian government to "immediately and fully" implement the plan.
"This plan represents a positive development that can be built on," al-Arabi told the pan-Arab gathering.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was attending the summit, called on al-Assad to "put commitments into immediate effect."
Syria said Wednesday it would reject any initiatives made by the Arab League, which suspended Damascus' membership of the 22-member bloc in November, to protest its crackdown on the opposition.
But, in a message to leaders of the emerging economy BRICS nations in New Delhi, al-Assad said in a statement carried by the SANA news agency that the country would "spare no effort" in working with Annan.
Syria also received some backing from Iran, which swore to back al-Assad's regimes, as the two share an anti-Israeli stance.
The UN estimates that 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in Syria. There were reports late Thursday from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders that two foreign journalists had died in shelling along the Turkish-Syrian border earlier this week.