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Arab League suspends Syria mission amid violence

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:34 PM EST, Sun January 29, 2012
Syrian anti-regime protesters wave the country's pre-Baath flag during a demonstration in Helfaya on Sunday.
Syrian anti-regime protesters wave the country's pre-Baath flag during a demonstration in Helfaya on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The LCC asks that Monday be a day of remembrance
  • The opposition group says 64 are killed Sunday
  • Russia's foreign minister says he would support more Arab observers
  • The Arab League suspended its mission because of violence

(CNN) -- At least 64 people were killed in Syria on Sunday, according to an opposition activist group, as the Arab League suspended a monitoring mission designed to protect Syrian civilians from government-sponsored violence.

The dead included 19 in Homs, 15 in Hama and 16 around Damascus, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Three children were among those killed, the group said.

The LCC also called on Syrians to make Monday a day a remembrance.

"Please join us in observing a moment of silence as we remember the sacrifices of our fallen heroes, whose pure blood has saturated the earth of our beloved country," it said.

Earlier, another opposition activist group, the Syrian Revolution General Council, said as many as 34 people had died Sunday, including a person who had been killed under torture, a woman and two children.

Heavy clashes took place in the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, the LCC said. At least 50 people were wounded in random bombardment by government forces, the group said, adding the government forces attacked residential areas and cut off electricity, water and communication.

The reported deaths come a day after opposition sources said at least 98 people were killed.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports from Syria because the government limits the activity of journalists there.

Ali Erfan, senior advisor to Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby, said Sunday that observer activity in Syria has been suspended, and all observers who were outside Damascus have redeployed to the capital.

Syrian activist speaks

Some will leave the country, he said. Others will stay on for the moment in Damascus, but they will not be conducting any missions, he said, adding that he did not have details on how many are leaving and how many are staying.

Arab League suspends Syria mission

Russia's foreign minister said earlier Sunday he is in favor of boosting the number of observers in Syria, adding that he did not understand why the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission.

"We should like to understand why this useful instrument is treated in such a way," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to reports in Russian state media.

The Local Coordination Committees said two Damascus men on Sunday "tarnished the stairway of the Russian Cultural Center in red in an expression of their anger with the Russians' support of the regime." It did not provide further details.

The Arab League announced Saturday it was suspending its mission because of a sharp increase in violence.

Monitors representing the 22-nation alliance were in Syria to determine whether President Bashar al-Assad's government is abiding by an agreement with the Arab League to end violence against anti-government protesters.

"I would support an increased number of observers," Lavrov said.

There were reports Sunday of violent clashes between Syrian troops and rebel forces, made up primarily of military defectors, in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition group. Three people were killed in the violence, the group said.

At least 10 Syrian troops were killed when a roadside bomb targeted a military vehicle in the mountains in the northwest province of Idlib, the Observatory group said. A rebel soldier was killed in clashes between the towns of Bloludan and Zabadani, the group said.

A roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying Syrian troops in a Damascus suburb, killing six soldiers and wounding six others, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Sunday.

Al-Assad's government has been under international pressure to stop a brutal, months-long crackdown on an anti-government uprising that began last year.

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and members of the Arab League have called on al-Assad to end the violence and step down.

Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish political groups met in Iraq to formulate a plan to protect their rights if al-Assad is ousted. All but a few Kurdish parties attended the meeting in Irbil in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

In their final statement Sunday, the groups agreed to support decisions and recommendations made by the Kurdish National Council.

While the Syrian groups are willing to unite with the Arab opposition in Syria, they want more self-determination and autonomy in a post-Assad Syria. The Kurds also continue to reject taking up arms and say they are afraid of Islamic undertones in the opposition groups.

"We are calling for a decentralized government because Syria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country," Abdul Hakim Bashar, chairman of the Kurdish National Council, told CNN. "We demand a secular state, so Islamist movements don't try to interpret the system for their benefits by applying Islamic rules in a disfigured way."

However, one of the main Syrian Kurdish parties, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said it was excluded from the meeting.

"We have been working to unite Kurdish people and converge between different views within the Kurdish movement in Western Kurdistan and Syria," the party said in a statement. "This conference by the Kurdistan Democratic Party is a plan to divide rather than unite the Kurdish people."

"We alert the public that any recommendations and decisions issued by the so-called conference is not representative of the Kurdish people in Western Kurdistan," the group said.

Kurds are Syria's largest ethnic minority, comprising between 10% and 15% of Syria's population.

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

The opposition has blamed 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.

Lavrov said the Arab League plans to submit new proposals to the U.N. Security Council this week.

"We need to study a report," he said, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency in Russia.

Russia, which maintains trade relations with Syria, has proposed its own draft U.N. resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence on both al-Assad and the opposition, an option dismissed by the West.

Lavrov said the draft resolution remains up for discussion.

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.

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.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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