Arab League demands Syria end violence against citizens

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Story highlights

  • 13 people reported killed Monday
  • The Arab League demands that tanks return to barracks and prisoners go free
  • Syria's Bashar Al-Assad praises Russia's veto and thanks Moscow for its support
  • Government forces kill six "terrorists" and arrest 20 more, the state news agency says

The Arab League has called on Syria's government to end all violence against its people, remove tanks and military vehicles from the streets of the country and release political prisoners, an official with the Arab organization told CNN Monday.

Arab countries made the proposal to Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Sunday in a meeting in Doha that the prime minister of Qatar called "clear and frank," according to the Qatari national news agency.

The Arab League also proposed a dialogue between Syrian officials and opposition members in Cairo starting on Wednesday.

The proposals include a time frame for compliance, the Arab League official said.

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The Syrian delegation left Qatar without a response to the Arab League letter, which was presented on Sunday, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.

In Tripoli, Libya, where NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the end of the NATO campaign that helped oust longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, the NATO leader said Syria's leadership will face no such threat.

"NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria," Rasmussen told reporters. "I can completely rule that out. Having said that, I strongly condemn the crackdowns on the civilian population in Syria."

    Syrians aiming to write a new constitution for the strife-torn country met Monday for the first time, Syria's state news agency reported Sunday after a weekend of intense violence.

    President Bashar al-Assad this month announced the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution within four months, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported at the time. The October 15 announcement was one of several moves the government has made to defuse protests, but they have not calmed the situation in the country.

    The committee's official spokesman Dr. Sam Delleh, "said that the committee held two long sessions and discussed its work mechanisms and it visions regarding the draft constitution," SANA said.

    Thirteen people were reported killed Monday across the country, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group that organizes and documents protests. Eight deaths were reported in Homs, along with two each in Idlib and the village of Kafarnaboda in the province of Hama and one in Harasata, a suburb of Damascus.

    Government forces killed six people they described as terrorists Saturday, and arrested 20, SANA reported Sunday. The agency said four members of the security forces were killed in the clashes.

    More than 3,000 people have died since unrest broke out in Syria in mid-March, according to the United Nations.

    CNN cannot independently confirm individual accounts of violence because Syria's government restricts the activity of journalists.

    Al-Assad, meanwhile, praised Russia's support for his embattled government Sunday in his second interview with international news outlets in two days. Al-Assad told Russia's Channel One television network that his government has been in "constant contact" with Moscow, a longtime ally, since the protests began.

    He also thanked the Russians for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution in early October that would have condemned the Syrian response to the protests. China and Russia teamed up to kill the resolution, which had called for an immediate end to the clampdown.

    "Russia is aware of the dangers of military or political intervention in the internal affairs of Syria," al-Assad said. He said Syria expected the Russian government "will not only continue supporting Syria but also advocate world stability."

    The interview follows one published in Britain's Sunday Telegraph, which billed it as al-Assad's first with a Western journalist since the trouble started. Al-Assad told the newspaper that Western countries should not intervene in his country.

    "Syria is the hub now in this region," he said. "It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake. ... Do you want to see another Afghanistan or tens of Afghanistans?

    "Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region," the British newspaper quoted al-Assad as saying.

    While he admitted "many mistakes" had been made, the president also defended his security forces.

    "We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaeda," al-Assad told the Sunday Telegraph. "If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen. Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That's why the fighting is becoming much less."