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Amid violence, Arab League suspends observer mission in Syria

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:15 PM EST, Sat January 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This president, he won't stop," says an activist
  • Opposition activists report at least 98 deaths Saturday
  • Syria "regrets" the Arab League move
  • The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution on Syria

Damascus, Syria (CNN) -- The Arab League has suspended its monitoring mission in Syria because of a sharp spike in violence, the group said Saturday, the same day opposition activists reported at least 98 deaths.

Among those killed by government security forces were three children, one woman and 11 military defectors, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC), an opposition group that organizes and documents anti-government demonstrations.

Syria "escalated the security situation," an Arab League statement said. Deaths are up and innocent citizens have been affected by "continuing violence and exchange of assaults and gun firing," it read.

The decision comes just days after President Bashar al-Assad's government agreed to a one-month extension of the mission, which began December 26.

The Syrian government "regrets and was surprised" by the move, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported, citing an official source. The Arab League made the move to pressure the U.N. Security Council into approving foreign intervention, the source said.

Part of a peace initiative in Syria, the 22-member Arab League has called on al-Assad's regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities, and allow outsiders -- including the international news media -- to travel freely in Syria.

It has been monitoring government activities in various hotspots.

In the past two days, opposition activists reported scores of deaths, with one group, the LCC, listing 135 deaths Thursday and Friday.

Another opposition group, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Saturday that two more bodies were pulled from a home in the Karm Al-Zayton neighborhood of Homs. The group claims there have been two massacres this month in Karm Al-Zayton, resulting in the deaths of at least 47 people. It called on international aid organizations to help residents there recover bodies -- work that the group said has been complicated by snipers and checkpoints.

CNN cannot independently confirm events in Syria because it is limited from reporting on the ground.

"This president, he won't stop. He's going to keep killing the people, but the people will never stop. He kills someone. He kills a member of a family -- the whole family is going to come out," said an activist, whom CNN is identifying as Danny.

Speaking from Homs, Syria, he said he had been shot, escaped to Cairo and then returned to the country, where he has lost more than 30 friends.

"We started this revolution; we're going to finish it. I'm not going to run away from it," he said. "I hope I survive to see the end of it."

The Arab League's statement said the Syrian government has taken "the events toward a direction far from the nature" of the monitoring mission, despite its commitments to the league's initiative.

Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby decided to halt the mission after discussions with several Arab League foreign ministers.

El-Araby also instructed the mission's chief, Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ahmad al-Dabi, "to take all the necessary to ensure the safety of all members of the mission."

Violence raged again Saturday as seven soldiers died in an attack, state-run media reported. It blamed an "armed terrorist group."

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SANA said the attackers fired at a bus on the outskirts of Damascus and killed the soldiers, one of whom was a junior officer. They were traveling between the towns of Douma and Adra.

Terrorists were also blamed for an explosion on an oil pipeline in northeastern Deir Ezzor province, SANA said, quoting a source at the oil ministry.

The SANA report said production wasn't affected by the attack but that 2,000 barrels of oil were lost. Firefighters extinguished the blaze and crews began repair work. SANA said the pipeline had been attacked before.

The United Nations last month estimated that more than 5,000 people have died since March, when the government launched a crackdown against peaceful demonstrators. Activist groups estimate a higher death toll, with counts near or exceeding 7,000 people.

Opposition activists blame the deaths on government actions. The Syrian government says terrorists are responsible for the casualties.

Diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are considering a draft resolution that calls on al-Assad to step down and transfer power to his vice president.

Friday, the council discussed the measure introduced by Morocco.

The resolution also supports "full implementation" of the Arab League report that called on Syria to form a unity government within two months but stopped short of supporting military intervention. The Arab League report was released about a month after it sent observers into Syria.

Noting the mission's suspension, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said now is the moment for the "international community to unite" and agree to a U.N. Security Council resolution.

El-Araby and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, are expected to brief the council Tuesday about the observer mission's findings.

When asked whether that briefing would lead to a vote next week, France's U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, responded with just one word: "Inshallah," or god willing in Arabic.

In October, Russia and China issued a rare double veto of a resolution that lacked sanctions but would have condemned the violence in Syria. This latest draft also lacks sanctions, but is tougher than the earlier version, which said nothing about transfer of power.

On Saturday, the French ministry of foreign and European affairs said Minister Alain Juppe has sent a message to his Russian counterpart, urging cooperation on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council, the major opposition group in Syria, has called on expatriates to show their solidarity by sitting in front of Russian embassies and consulates starting at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.

There will be a Monday meeting of experts from the missions of the 15 countries on the Security Council.

Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari has dismissed the proposed resolution.

"Syria will not be Libya; Syria will not be Iraq; Syria will not be Somalia; Syria will not be a failing state," he told reporters.

Journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Frederik Pleitgen and Joe Sterling contributed to this report

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