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Middle East
Arab League to meet Syrian opposition
Secretary-general to hold talks with leading members of opposition in Cairo, as Syria continues to flout bloc's roadmap.
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2011 11:53

The Arab League is to meet with members of the Syrian opposition, a day after the UN said at least 3,500 people have been killed since the country's uprising began in March.

The meeting is expected to take place in Cairo, Egypt's capital, on Wednesday between leading members of the opposition, and Nabil el-Araby, secretary-general of the Arab League.

Thabet Salem, a journalist and author from Syria, told Al Jazeera that there was not much hope for anything concrete to come out of the meeting, due to the opposition's conflicting response to an Arab League roadmap to end the violence.

The league's plan, which was signed by the Syrian government on November 2, called for an end to violence, the release of those detained, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas and free movement for observers and the media, as well as talks between the regime and the opposition.

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Syria has been widely criticised for continuing its crackdown on protesters in the week since the plan was signed.

"First of all the opposition themselves are divided," Salem said, between those who want foreign intervention to stop the bloodshed, and those who are against foreign intervention.

"The Syrian case is not similar to that of Libya," Salem said, explaining that the Arab League has not been seen as exerting the same amount of pressure as it did during the case of Libya.

He said "the impression [in Syria] is that the Arab League is incapable and not serious enough to force the regime to stop what's going on."

Al Jazeera's correspondent, Jane Arraf, said that those opposition figures going to meet with the Arab League are those from within Syria. "They are the ones who will have to live with whatever happens, so for them the Arab League is something they are continuing to pin their hopes on."

"They are hoping to persuade the Arab League that this is an effort worth pursuing, that [the Arab League] should open a permanent office in Damascus with monitors, and that diplomacy is the way forward," she said. "This is in sharp contrast to the opposition outside, who want much more severe measures against Syria."

The Arab League is to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday, which it says has been prompted by "the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis".

The opposition Syrian National Council, based in Turkey, has urged the league "to take a strong and effective position against the Syrian regime commensurate with the dangerous development of the situation in Syria, especially in ... Homs".

In a letter on Tuesday, it asked the pan-Arab bloc to freeze Syria's membership, impose economic and diplomatic sanctions, and seek the referral of allegations of genocide and other human rights abuses by the regime to the International Criminal Court.

UN report

On Tuesday, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters  in Geneva that the estimate of those killed during the violence in Syria, which took the toll from 3,000 to 3,500, was conservative and based on "credible sources on the ground".

She described the situation in Homs' neighbourhood of Baba Amro as "appalling", with residents deprived of food, water and medical supplies for a week. Activists reported that six people were killed in the central city, including one child.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has been battling protesters who are calling for his resignation in a crackdown that has seen some soldiers defecting and taking sides with the demonstrators.

The fighting in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, which entered its sixth day on Tuesday, has left more than 110 people dead, according to activists with the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC).

The UN provided a lower estimated death toll, saying "more than 60" people had died in the city since the November 2 announcement of the Arab League ceasefire plan.

Hama assault

Meanwhile, in Hama, about 50km north of Homs, tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen moving towards the city centre on Tuesday as snipers and armed government supporters surrounded a medical complex and the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party, the LCC said.

The activist network reported that five people were killed in Hama. Explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard in the city, and electricity and internet services had been disabled, they said.

Elsewhere in Syria, the LCC reported that seven people were killed in the northwestern provience in Idlib.

A video posted on YouTube on Monday shows armed men in camouflage uniforms marching in Homs and proclaiming themselves defectors to the "Syrian Free Army".

In the video, one fighter calls for a no-fly zone and says that the uprising against Assad is peaceful.

Large pro-government demonstrations can be seen regularly, and major cities such as Damascus and Aleppo have so far not become protest hubs like Hama, Homs and Deraa.

Despite the deaths, a large section of the population, including businesspeople and minorities, seems to be still loyal to the government of Assad, who has been in power for 11 years.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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