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Deaths, detentions mount in Syria, activists say

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:25 PM EST, Mon January 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Arab League has asked the U.N. for help in training observers, a spokesman says
  • At least 13 dead in violence on Monday, activists say
  • Report: Qatar's ruler says Arab troops should intervene militarily in Syria
  • Residents celebrate the Arab League monitors in the town of Zabadani

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Zabadani, Syria (CNN) -- Government forces killed at least 13 people in Syria on Monday, including five soldiers who died trying to defect during a firefight and five people who were shot to death waiting in line at a bakery, opposition groups said.

At least 20 people were wounded when the Syrian army bombarded homes in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, according to the Local Coordination Committee, an opposition group that organizes and reports on protests.

In Homs, opposition groups reported eight deaths among civilians, including five people killed by security forces who fired indiscriminately on people in line at a bakery, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Nine others were wounded.

In addition, security forces raided a university housing facility in Aleppo and arrested nine students Monday, the group said.

Five soldiers also died Monday while trying to defect from the army during a firefight between government and opposition forces in Idlib, according to the human rights group. Fifteen other soldiers successfully defected, the group said.

Meanwhile, Syrian state-run media said an "armed terrorist group" fatally shot Brig. Gen. Mohammed Abdul-Hamid al-Awwad in the Gotta area while he headed to work.

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The chaos came after Qatar's ruler became the first Arab leader to suggest that Arab troops should intervene militarily in Syria.

In an interview that aired on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said, "I think for such a situation -- to stop the killing, some troops should go. To stop the killing."

The desperation to end a brutal government crackdown was evident Sunday, when crowds in a town surrounded by government troops cheered Arab League monitors who visited while others ran out of the town to escape the fighting inside.

Residents of Zabadani, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Damascus, lifted one of the monitors onto their shoulders and passed him around the crowd during Sunday's visit.

They told CNN that their water and electricity had been cut off for the past three days, and they showed off wounds they said had been inflicted by pro-government forces.

The monitors got a different reception from Syrian soldiers, who berated them as the soldiers carried off the body of one of their comrades they said had been shot by opposition forces.

The visit came as another 32 people were killed in several cities by government troops trying to crush a 10-month-old uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Local Coordination Committee.

During a visit to neighboring Lebanon, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a blunt message to al-Assad: "Stop killing your people."

On Sunday, al-Assad announced that he was granting amnesty to anti-government demonstrators for "all crimes committed" since the uprising began in March, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

The decree applies to people who engaged in peaceful demonstrations, carried or possesses unlicensed weapons or ammunition, and draft evaders, SANA said. People must turn themselves in by month's end to benefit from the amnesty, the agency reported.

But fear of arrests or violence by the Syrian regime keeps many Syrians on edge.

When the monitors prepared to leave Zabadani, many of the thousands who greeted the monitors in town urged them to stay, warning that attacks by government troops would resume once they left.

Some offered to show the monitors where Syrian tanks were hidden in the fields surrounding the city.

Syria was required to pull heavy weaponry out of the cities under the agreement it signed with the Arab League in November, but Zabadani residents said the tanks pulled back only when the monitors were on their way.

Fares Mohammed, an LCC spokesman, said about 100 armored vehicles had surrounded the city for three days, and that power and water had been cut off as the city faced sub-freezing temperatures.

More gunfire erupted as the monitors left town, and a soldier at another checkpoint rushed out to hammer at their vehicle.

More than 5,000 people have died since mid-March, the United Nations has said. Opposition groups put the toll at more than 6,000. Al-Assad, who has characterized the anti-government protesters as "armed gangs," says his security forces are battling terrorists intent on targeting civilians and fomenting unrest.

But much of the international community holds al-Assad's regime responsible for killing dissidents.

"I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people," Ban said at a conference on political reform and democracy in Beirut on Sunday. "The path of repression is a dead end."

CNN cannot verify many accounts of what is happening in Syria because the government restricts the activity of journalists, though a number of journalists have been allowed into the country in recent days to travel with Arab League monitors.

The Arab League has asked the United Nations for assistance in training observers, said U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

U.N. staffers are on standby to fly to Cairo, but their departure was postponed at the request of the Arab League, pending the outcome of a meeting at the end of its mission in Syria, he said.

The Arab League mission began December 26 and is expected to conclude on January 19. It has been mired in controversy from the start, from the choice to head the mission -- Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi, once the head of Sudan's military intelligence -- to reports that the Syrian government was limiting the group's access.

CNN's Nic Robertson, Hamdi Alkhshali and Mick Krever contributed to this report.

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