Syria ignores Arab plan
Damascus - Syria ignored a new Arab initiative to end the bloodshed, with its troops pounding the protest hub of Homs on Monday as Russia said a ceasefire is needed before peacekeepers can be deployed.
The pan-Arab bloc agreed on Sunday to ask the United Nations to send a joint peacekeeping force to Syria, where activists say more than 6 000 people have died in a brutal crackdown on dissent since March last year.
The embattled government of President Bashar Assad swiftly rejected the initiative.
And hours after the Arab League decision, Assad's troops resumed shelling Baba Amr, a rebel bastion in the beleaguered central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The neighbourhood of Baba Amr has been subjected to sporadic shelling since 05:00 (03:00 GMT) by the Syrian army," the Britain-based Observatory said in a statement.
Regime forces killed eight civilians, among them three in Homs and two in nearby Rastan, including a 13-year-old girl in shelling after clashes between army defectors and soldiers. Three troops also died.
The security forces also raided homes to arrest people in Daraa province in the south, cradle of the Arab Spring-inspired 11-month uprising against Assad's iron-fisted rule.
"There were fierce clashes between defectors and the army which stormed Lajat [also in Daraa province] and arrested the mothers of four dissidents," the Observatory said.
Despite the relentless violence, protests were staged across Syria.
Some denounced Assad and others supported the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to YouTube videos provided by the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.
"Arab League!!! Thank you but we need more," said a placard students carried at a rally in Jabala, Idlib province.
A government official said Syria was determined to crush such dissent, regardless of the latest Arab initiative, the official SANA news agency reported.
"This decision will not prevent the Syrian government from fulfilling its responsibilities in protecting its citizens and restoring security and stability," the unidentified official was quoted as saying.
"Syria rejects decisions that are a flagrant interference in the country's internal affairs and a violation of its national sovereignty."
Activists say Assad's forces have killed at least 500 people in Homs since they began attacking the central city with a barrage of tank shells, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades on February 4.
The assault on Homs began on the same day Russia and China vetoed a second UN Security Council resolution on Syria.
That move prompted the Arab League to ask the United Nations for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to the strife-torn country.
The initiative was on Monday welcomed by European nations. Russia said it was studying the plan, but cautioned that it had questions about certain points.
Raises the stakes
"We are studying this initiative and expect our friends from the Arab states to provide us with a clarification of certain points," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
"In order to deploy a peacekeeping mission, you need the agreement of the receiving side.
"In other words, you need to agree something resembling a ceasefire. But the problem is that the armed groups that are fighting the Syrian regime do not answer to anyone and are not controlled by anyone."
Analysts said the new Arab initiative was likely to fail, but added that it raises the stakes and further isolates the embattled regime in Damascus.
"I find it very difficult that we will find member states who will actually contribute UN troops to something like this," said Salman Shaikh, head of the Brookings Doha Centre.
"We have to redouble our efforts to try and achieve a ceasefire at least before we can get some sort of hybrid force which, in principle, is a good idea to try and keep the peace."
No western boots
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was unlikely Western nations would join the force.
"I don't see the way forward in Syria as being Western boots on the ground, in any form, including in peacekeeping form," he told a news conference in South Africa.
And as diplomats mulled options to stop the violence, including the pros and cons of arming the rebellion, France warned that any foreign military action in Syria would only aggravate the situation.
"We think that today any external intervention of a military nature would only worsen the situation, all the more given that there will not be a decision by the Security Council, which is the only body able to authorise military intervention," said Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
Meanwhile, the opposition General Commission of the Syrian Revolution rejected al-Qaeda "interference" in Syria after the extremist network's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, voiced support for their uprising in an internet video.