Syria opposition urges tough line
Damascus - Syria's opposition on Tuesday urged the Arab League to stand strong against President Bashar al-Assad's regime as the United Nations said its crackdown on dissent has left more than 3 500 people dead.
In a letter, the Syrian National Council urged the pan-Arab bloc "to take a strong and effective position against the Syrian regime commensurate with the dangerous development of the situation in Syria".
It wants the League to freeze Syria's membership, impose economic and diplomatic sanctions, and seek the referral of allegations of genocide and other human rights violations by the regime to the International Criminal Court.
The council, which groups the main opposition currents, focused its appeal on the central city of Homs, after declaring it a "humanitarian disaster area" in need of "international protection of civilians".
Homs is the only major city to remain outside the Assad regime's control after military operations in Hama further north, Deir Ezzor in the east and the coastal cities of Latakia and Banias.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 civilians were killed across the country on Tuesday, among them a girl who died in Homs as soldiers pressed a crackdown on dissent.
"A civilian was killed during raids in the neighbourhood of Baba Amro," where soldiers were searching for people wanted by the regime's security services, the Britain-based rights group said in a statement.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the situation in the besieged neighbourhood as "appalling," with residents deprived of food, water and medical supplies for a week.
In another neighbourhood of Homs, "a girl was killed by the explosion of a rocket that hit her home," the Observatory said.
End the bloodshed
And in Qusayr, near Homs, overnight clashes pitted soldiers against gunmen presumed to be defectors.
"Eight gunmen and security agents were killed in an ambush by armed men, probably army defectors," south of Maaret al-Numan, a town in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, it added.
Also in Idlib province, security forces shot dead a young man and another man was killed by gunfire coming from a checkpoint in the region's capital, the rights group said.
The Arab League has called an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday over Syria's failure to implement its roadmap for ending the bloodshed, which calls on Assad to open talks with the opposition and withdraw tanks from the streets.
"The brutal crackdown on the dissent in Syria has so far claimed the lives of more than 3 500 Syrians," said Shamdasani.
"More than 60 people are reported to have been killed by military and security forces since Syria signed the peace plan sponsored by the league of Arab states, including at least 19 on Eid al-Adha on Sunday," she added.
Assad's government signed on to the Arab League peace plan on November 2.
The Arab roadmap calls for an end to violence, the release of those detained, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas and free movement for observers and the media, as well as talks between the regime and opposition.
As a first step, Syria on Saturday said it had released more than 550 people who were arrested during anti-regime protests, to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim feast.
However, Shamdasani noted that despite the release, "tens of thousands continue to remain in detention and dozens continue to be arbitrarily arrested every day".
"Syrian troops continue to use tanks and heavy weaponry to attack residential areas in the city of Homs," where protests against Assad's rule continue despite the crackdown, she said.
"There was a peace plan by the league of Arab states that the Syrian government had engaged to, but since the peace plan was signed, there have been further killings, further sieges of towns and really shocking reports coming out from the ground," she noted.
The UN human rights office also pressed Assad's regime to grant its investigators access on the ground.