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Syria crackdown continues, opposition says

Attacks on civilians haven't stopped despite the pact brokered by the Arab League to end the bloodshed, activists say. Latest death toll is put at 25.

November 03, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • Antigovernment protesters pray next to the bodies of people killed near Homs.
Antigovernment protesters pray next to the bodies of people killed near… (Reuters )

Reporting from Beirut — Opposition activists said Syrian authorities showed no signs Thursday of stopping their attacks against civilians, despite a new pact brokered by Arab nations designed to end the bloodshed.

At least 25 people were killed nationwide, 22 in the tinderbox city of Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

Opposition groups reported that tanks with mounted machine guns opened fire in the central Syrian city, part of what the groups called a nationwide pattern of renewed attacks.

"Today's events leave no doubt that the regime continues to dodge and maneuver its way to buy time, that its agreement to the Arab League initiative is not worth the ink it is written in, and that it is going forward with its crimes despite approving the Arab League initiative," the umbrella group said in a statement.

On Thursday, Syria agreed to an Arab League-brokered deal that would require the withdrawal of armed forces from the streets, the release of political prisoners and a national "dialogue" within two weeks.

A major unanswered question, given the polarized Syrian political situation, is how the dialogue would proceed — and which opposition representatives would participate.

Some anti-Assad groups say they have no intention of entering into talks with Assad unless they are predicated on the departure of the man whose family has led Syria for more than 40 years. The Arab League mediation does not require that Assad step down.

It is also unclear if Assad is willing to engage in dialogue with opponents demanding his ouster. The government has said it is open to talks with the "opposition," but that usually refers to those dissenters who are not challenging Assad's rule.

Critics say Assad, who has suffered international condemnation and isolation for his crackdown on protesters, is accepting the Arab League plan in a bid to buy time.

The Syrian government insists it is committed to reform and blames "armed terrorists" for the unrest that has swept the nation since March, leaving thousands dead, including hundreds of security personnel. Assad has set in motion procedures for a new constitution and a reformed electoral process that he says will bring needed change.

Observers say Assad still enjoys considerable popular support, especially among the business elite and minority groups fearful of an Iraq-style civil war and sectarian bloodletting. Syria's two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have seen massive pro-Assad rallies in recent weeks.

The opposition has called for a mass mobilization throughout Syria on Friday, the traditional day for demonstrations, which typically follow Muslim midday prayers. The protests will serve as a test of the government's commitment to the Arab League-brokered peace process, the opposition says.

Sandels is a special correspondent.

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