Syrian demonstrators gather in Hula, near Homs, to protest against the… (Reuters )
Reporting from Beirut — The Syrian government lashed out at the Obama administration Saturday for "blatant interference in Syrian affairs" after the State Department advised people in the country against surrendering as part of an amnesty offered by the regime.
Syria accused Washington of "inciting sedition, supporting the acts of killing and terrorism," the official Syrian news agency said, quoting an official source at the Foreign Ministry.
Damascus frequently denounces "foreign" interference, but Saturday's broadside was among the most pointed outbursts. The Obama administration has called for President Bashar Assad to step down amid an uprising in the police state that has seen an estimated 3,000 civilians killed.
The comments came a day after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that she would counsel Syrians to reject the amnesty, in which those the government terms arms violators were asked to turn themselves in with their weapons "to the nearest police station" during a one-week period that began Saturday. Those who surrender and have not killed anyone "will be released soon," the Interior Ministry vowed.
"I wouldn't advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment," Nuland told reporters in Washington. The department had no further comment Saturday.
The opposition called the amnesty a sham and a trap in a police state where thousands of suspects are being held incommunicado.
Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, warned in Cairo on Saturday of "disastrous consequences" if a league-brokered peace pact for Syria fails.
Assad last week agreed to the league plan, which calls for a withdrawal of troops from populated areas, a release of prisoners and a new "dialogue" with opponents, among other terms.
The opposition accuses the Assad regime of ignoring the peace pact and continuing to attack protesters. Activists said that 22 people were killed Saturday, including 19 in the central city of Homs, the site of fierce clashes and apparent sectarian slayings.
The opposition calls itself a peaceful coalition seeking democratic change. But it also has an armed component, including military defectors. The Syrian government says "armed groups" are driving the unrest and have killed more than 1,000 security personnel.
The government linked the amnesty and its Saturday announcement that it would release 553 detainees "with no blood on their hands" for the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, which begins Sunday.
But the timing of the measures suggests the action may be related to the Arab League peace blueprint. Regime opponents see a cynical calculation: Once few Syrians turn themselves in, the government can respond by saying it cannot withdraw troops from protest-racked cities.
Critics doubt that the government will pull back its forces, especially from the hotbed cities of Homs and Hama, which, opposition activists say, could fall partially or fully into opposition hands without a heavy security presence.
Since the outset of the crisis, the Assad administration has aggressively sought to ensure that the opposition cannot hold any "liberated" zones, as happened in Libya with the eastern city of Benghazi, which became a center of revolt.