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Arab League Advance Team Arrives in Syria

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C) meets a delegation of clan leaders from three cities in nation's northeastern region - Deir Ezzour, Raqqa and Hasaka - in Damascus, Syria, December 22, 2011.

An advance team of Arab League observers has arrived in Syria, amid a mounting death toll from a crackdown on opposition unrest.

The team came Thursday to lay the groundwork for Arab League monitors who arrive over the coming weeks. The monitors will see whether Syria follows through on a pledge to stop attacks on anti-government protesters.

Activists say at least 21 people were killed on Thursday, following security force raids and clashes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says nine of the deaths were in the flashpoint region of Homs.

Syria's government agreed to allow the observers into the country under global pressure to stop its bloody crackdown on dissent.

The Arab League also has been urging Syria to withdraw its security forces from neighborhoods and begin talks with the opposition.

Syrian opposition groups say troops have killed at least 250 people since Monday -- one of the bloodiest periods since the uprising began in March.

The Syrian government has blamed much of the deadly violence on "gunmen" and "terrorists." On Thursday, Syria said more than 2,000 security force members had been killed in the nine-month uprising.

The state-run SANA news agency says the government reported the death toll in information submitted to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Security Council members will hold more talks Thursday to "build consensus" on a Russian-sponsored draft resolution on Syria.

Turkey on Thursday condemned its neighbor, saying Syria's policies were turning the country into a "bloodbath."

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said the violence raises serious concerns about Syria's true intentions, and that no administration can be a winner in a struggle against its own people.

The United Nations says at least 5,000 people have been killed during the uprising.

The British-based Avaaz rights group says it has collected evidence of more than 6,200 deaths, including at least 400 children. It says more than 69,000 Syrians have been detained. In a Thursday statement, executive director Ricken Patel said the figures mean "one in every 300 Syrians has either been killed or imprisoned" since the uprising began.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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