150 dead in 2 days of Syrian violence
Beirut - Security forces pursuing anti-government activists and army defectors have shot dead at least 47 people in Syria, pushing the toll for two days of violence to nearly 150 even as the regime prepared to allow in foreign monitors under an Arab League plan aimed at stopping the bloodshed.
Syrian state television showed pictures of military manoeuvres and said they were meant to show its forces are ready to "repulse any aggression the enemies of our nations might think about".
Activist groups said about 100 people were killed on Monday, the same day Syria agreed to the monitors after weeks of stalling. About 70 of the dead were said to be army defectors. The groups said Tuesday's toll was at least 47 and possibly as high as 62.
The opposition is deeply sceptical that the agreement to allow the monitors in is anything other than stalling for time as international pressure on President Bashar Assad grows. The huge toll for two days of violence, among the highest since March, has reinforced that scepticism.
Commenting on the agreement to allow monitors, the US said it will judge Syria by its actions.
"We've seen too many broken promises from the Syrian regime. So we're really less interested in a signed piece of paper than we are in actions to implement commitments made," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Monday night.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 47 people were killed throughout the country on Tuesday. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the toll at 62.
The deadliest incident was in the town of Kfar Owaid in the northwest province of Idlib where activists said troops attacked with heavy machine gun fire or shells and killed at least 23 people, said the observatory. The LCC put the death toll in the town at 25.
"The violent shelling of the town continues," the LCC said in a statement.
70 army defectors killed
The Syrian conflict has become increasingly militarised in recent weeks, with clashes nearly every day between army defectors and troops. The northern province of Idlib has witnessed some of the most intense clashes.
On Monday, security forces killed up to 70 army defectors as they were deserting their military posts in Idlib near the Turkish border, activists said.
The Arab League plan calls for removing Syrian forces and heavy weapons from city streets, starting talks with opposition leaders and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country, along with observers from member countries.
Assad's regime accepted the monitors after Arab leaders warned they would turn to the UN Security Council to try to end the crackdown that the UN says has killed at least 5 000 people since March.
In Cairo, an Arab League official said an advance team will arrive in Syria on Thursday to prepare for an observer mission. The advance team will be led by the Arab League's assistant secretary-general Sameer Seif el-Yazal.
He said 500 observers will eventually deploy around the country in small groups of at least 10.