Syria: Call for Assad to quit a conspiracy
Beirut - Syria on Monday rebuffed as a "conspiracy" an Arab League call for President Bashar Assad to step down in favour of a unity government to calm a 10-month-old revolt in which thousands of Syrians have been killed.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma, tens of thousands of people turned out on Monday under the protection of rebel Free Syrian Army fighters to mourn 11 people killed by security forces, activists and a resident said.
Security forces, apparently keen to avoid a confrontation, stayed outside the area, where fighting had erupted overnight.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour criticised an Arab League call on Sunday for Assad to step down, saying its ministers had taken an "unbalanced" approach to the crisis by disregarding violence perpetrated by Assad's opponents.
Not our job to investigate - monitors
Damascus has not rejected the League's decision to keep Arab observers in Syria one month longer, Mansour said, even though critics say their presence has not stemmed the bloodshed and only bought time for Assad to crush his opponents.
The Sudanese general who heads the monitoring mission said violence had dipped in the past month, contradicting accounts by Syrian activists who say at least 600 people were killed.
"After the arrival of the mission, the intensity of violence began to decrease," Mohammed al-Dabi told a news conference at the Cairo-based Arab League, saying the monitors had logged only 136 deaths on both sides since they began work.
"Our job was to check what is happening on the ground and not investigate it," said Dabi.
His role as chief monitor has displeased Assad's critics given that he has held senior military and government posts in Sudan, including in Darfur, where the International Criminal Court prosecutor says the army carried out war crimes and the United Nations says 300 000 people may have died.
UN: 5 000+ people killed
Saudi Arabia, an adversary of Syria's ally Iran, undermined the mission's credibility when it withdrew its own monitors on Sunday, accusing Damascus of defying an earlier Arab peace plan.
The UN says more than 5 000 people have been killed by the security forces since an anti-Assad revolt began in March. The authorities say they are fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" who have killed 2 000 soldiers and police.
EU foreign ministers tightened sanctions against Syria on Monday, adding 22 people and eight entities to a list of banned people and groups, and said Assad's repression was unacceptable.
"The message from the European Union is clear," said the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. "The crackdown must stop immediately."
Qatar has proposed sending Arab peacekeepers to Syria, but no other Arab country has shown any enthusiasm for this.
Violence carries on
Syria, keen to avoid harsher foreign action, has made several moves to show it is complying with the initial Arab peace plan, which required an end to killings, a troop pullout from cities, release of detainees and a political dialogue.
The violence, however, has raged on unabated.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven civilians were killed on Monday and 12 the previous day.
Activists said an army deserter fighting for the Free Syrian Army had been killed in al-Quseir near the border with Lebanon.
SANA said three security personnel had been killed and 14 wounded in al-Quseir and one had died while trying to defuse a bomb in the eastern region of Deir al-Zor.
It said Brigadier-General Hassan al-Ibrahim and another officer were killed on Sunday when insurgents shot at their car in Damascus province. He was the third brigadier killed in a week. It said 11 people were also killed in an attack in Homs.