Syria: Further Homs deaths as Arab League adds pressure

Syrian troops in Hula near Homs (4 Nov 2011) The Syrian government has promised to withdraw troops from the streets

Security forces in Syria have killed at least 19 protesters during demonstrations against the government, rights groups say.

The latest deaths, which come at the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, come a day after 27 people were killed in violence in Homs.

The Arab League is to meet again next weekend to discuss the crisis.

Earlier, it said a failure by the Syrian government to bring an end to the bloodshed would be catastrophic.

On Sunday, 16 civilians were killed by security forces while protesting in the city of Homs, 140 km (90 miles) north of the capital, Damascus, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Majd Amer, a local Homs activist quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said people performed morning prayers to the sound of explosions that sometimes shook the mosques.

"It's been like this for days now," he said of the military assault on the city.

Most of the deaths occurred in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, where clashes have raged for days, the Observatory for Human Rights said.

Analysis

The pictures and reports we are getting from activists inside Syria suggest nothing has changed in the five days since the government said it would comply with an Arab League peace proposal.

Even now, during one of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year, the reports say protesters are being attacked by military units, and that the killing has continued.

And the language used by President Assad hasn't changed either - in one of his only comments since Wednesday he said his forces were taking a stand against terrorism and outside interference, and that they had to win the battle they were fighting.

That leaves the Arab League with few options, apart from sanctioning Syria, either by suspending or expelling it.

The city has become a focus of anti-Assad unrest in recent months - more than 100 people have been killed there in the past week.

Security forces also shot dead two civilians in the city of Hama, which lies further to the north, and another in Idlib province, near the border with Turkey, the observatory said.

The group also said troops had opened fire on a protest in Talbi, near Homs, and that dozens had been injured in the Idlib town of Kafruma.

The authorities say security forces are fighting militant gangs who have been killing civilians in Homs.

On Wednesday the Arab League announced a plan for Syria calling for an end to violence, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas, and talks between the regime and opposition.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has said it will pull its forces off the streets and begin dialogue with the opposition, but despite this, the violence has continued.

Emergency meeting

On Saturday Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi called on the government to implement the plan, saying a failure to do so would have "catastrophic consequences for the situation in Syria and the region".

Following Sunday's killings, the League announced it would hold an emergency meeting on 12 November to discuss "the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan".

Anti-government protest in Hula, Syria (undated image received 4 Nov 2011) The protests have continued despite the government crackdown

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the latest deaths had made it clear there was "nothing more to expect from this regime and that despite its occasional announcements it will not commit to a programme of reforms".

He said there had been a "failure" at the UN Security Council to take action against Syria, after a motion to introduce measures against Syria, including possible sanctions, was vetoed last month.

The United Nations estimates that at least 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.

The government says Islamist militants and foreign-backed armed gangs have killed 1,100 members of the security forces.

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