News / Middle East

Violence Flares as Damascus 'Positive' Towards Observers

Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi speaks during a press conference in Damascus, Syria, Dec. 5, 2011.
Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi speaks during a press conference in Damascus, Syria, Dec. 5, 2011.

Syria said Monday it has responded "positively" to an Arab League demand to let league observers into the country. Meanwhile, activists in the central city of Homs say militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad kidnapped and killed 34 civilians Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said circumstances of their deaths were not immediately clear but activists and residents in several districts reported a spate of kidnappings in anti-Assad neighborhoods since Sunday.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters that Syria has informed the Arab League that it will agree to the observer plan with conditions.

He says Syria requests the agreement be signed in Damascus and that Syria's suspension from the league and proposed sanctions be cancelled once the agreement is signed.

But analysts are wary of Syria's intentions.

Khattar Abou Diab, a political scientist at the University of Paris, says Damascus has been playing a lengthy game of “cat-and-mouse” with the Arab League.

He says that Syria has been creating one delay after another, offering to sign one minute, then not to sign the next minute, before imposing new conditions. He says that Syria's condition that the accord be signed in Damascus looks like yet another delay tactic.

The Arab League's proposed sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes on top Syrian leaders and a ban on flights to Damascus. Arab ministers agreed Saturday in Qatar to impose sanctions on 19 Syrian officials, including key members of President Assad's family.

Despite Damascus' positive reaction to the Arab observers' plan, government troops continued their offensive in many parts of the country.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdelrahman told VOA Monday that security forces shot dead five civilians in Homs.  Another person was killed near Daraa, while a man shot by security forces days ago died of his wounds Monday in the village of Talbisa.

The rights group also saysthat army defectors killed three security force members and one police officer in Dael, near the southern flashpoint of Daraa.

The violence comes after at least 35 people were killed Sunday, mostly in Homs province, during attacks on residents of protest hubs and in fighting with army defectors.

Meanwhile, Tayssir Zoghbi, a top Syrian customs official, announced that a free trade agreement with neighboring Turkey was being suspended as Turkey has taken a hardline stance towards the Syrian government.

He says that the free trade zone between Turkey and Syria is being suspended and that Damascus is imposing a 30 percent customs duty on goods coming from Turkey.

Turkish leaders recently called on President Assad to resign and have upped the pressure on Damascus by vowing strict economic sanctions.

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