News / Middle East

    Syria Sets Death Penalty for Terrorist Arms Smugglers

    In this image from TV shown on the internet made available by the Sham News Network December 20, 2011, soldiers walk down the street in Daraa, Syria.
    In this image from TV shown on the internet made available by the Sham News Network December 20, 2011, soldiers walk down the street in Daraa, Syria.

    Syria's state-run news agency says President Bashar al-Assad has issued a new law allowing for a death sentence for anyone found to be distributing arms to terrorists.

    Tuesday's announcement comes a day after Syria agreed to allow observers to monitor whether the government is following a peace plan designed to stop a crackdown on anti-government protesters.

    Assad's government has blamed the months of unrest on "armed terrorist groups."

    Rights activists say deadly violence continued across Syria on Monday despite the signing of the Arab League plan.

    The activists said government security forces gunned down as many as 70 army deserters Monday as they fled their posts along the Turkish border, while another 30 people were killed in other parts of Syria.

    The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Monday condemning the violence. The U.N. says at least 5,000 people have been killed during the nine-month uprising.

    Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Mekdad, signed an accord in Cairo that initially gives Arab League observers a one-month presence in the country.  The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, says he expects the mission to begin within days.

    Syria accepted the Arab League's demand to agree to the peace deal amid threats to bring Syria before the U.N. Security Council for possible international sanctions.

    Critics say the move is just a delaying tactic by the government.

    The head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Burhan Ghallioun, told reporters in Tunisia that Syria is buying time and "maneuvering" in order to prevent intervention by the Security Council. He called for military intervention.

    The Arab League's peace proposal calls for the removal of troops and heavy weapons from the streets of Syrian cities, the opening of a dialogue with the opposition and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country. Syria said it demanded changes to the plan without revealing what they are.

    The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on Damascus last month to pressure it into accepting the peace initiative.

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