31 killed in Syria as Arab League meets

Cairo/Rabat - At least 31 soldiers and civilians were killed on Wednesday in clashes in different parts of Syria, as Arab League foreign ministers were meeting in Morocco to review if the government had complied with a deal to end its crackdown on protesters.

According to opposition sources, Syrian army deserters attacked a military intelligence office in Harasta, near the capital Damascus, killing six soldiers and wounding more than 20.

"The Syrian Free Army [deserters] struck with rockets and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]," said Omar Idlibi, the Beirut-based spokesperson for the opposition Syrian Local Co-ordination Committees.

Army defectors also killed eight soldiers and wounded dozens in an attack on a security checkpoint in the town of Kafr Zeta in Hama, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A further 17 civilians were killed when Syrian troops fired on anti-government protesters in several areas of the country, according to the opposition General Syria Revolution Committees.

The bulk of the deaths were in the restive provinces of Homs and Idlib, where residents engaged in acts of civil disobedience to protest the government crackdown.

It is hard to independently verify news from Syria as the authorities have barred foreign media from the country.

Meanwhile, Arab and Turkish foreign ministers, meeting in the Moroccan capital Rabat, said the Syrian crisis should be resolved without foreign intervention

They called in a statement for "prompt measures" to protect civilians in Syria.

Syrian Free Army

Turkey is one of the most vociferous critics of the Syrian government's crackdown on its opposition.

The call came prior to the Arab League meeting, where the organisation was expected to urge Damascus to allow Arab monitors to assess the situation in the country. Syria said it would not attend.

In Damascus, protesters believed to be loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked the embassies of Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

France, meanwhile, summoned its ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier for consultations.

Also on Wednesday, the renegade Syrian Free Army announced the formation of a military council to oust al-Assad's regime.

"This period requires the Free Syrian Army to establish an interim military council," said a statement by the group posted on the website of the opposition Syrian Revolution 2011.

Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, who defected from the army to form Syrian Free Army in July, is to head the council, the statement said.

More than 3 500 people have been killed in Syria since pro-democracy protests began in mid-March, according to the United Nations.

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