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Middle East
Arab monitors to meet top Syrian diplomat
Meeting comes as funerals for 44 victims of twin car bombs in Damascus turn into a strong display of support for Assad.
Last Modified: 24 Dec 2011 15:20

Arab League monitors are expected to meet Syria's foreign minister a day after suicide bombers killed 44 people in attacks Damascus blamed on al-Qaeda, but which the opposition said were the government's work.

Thousands of people in the Syrian capital took part in funerals on Saturday, as mourners carried coffins draped in Syrian flags into the eighth-century Omayyad mosque.

Meanwhile, the bodies of four civilians who had been arrested were found on Saturday with signs of torture in restive Homs province, activists said. Activists in the Bab Amr district also told Al Jazeera they have been under seige for the last 48 hours.They also said that at least 21 civilians were killed across the country on Friday.

Saturday's funerals turned into pro-government rallies, with Syrians chanting "Death to America" during the processions in Damascus, the Reuters news agency reported.

The bombings, which hit two security buildings on Friday, were the first against the powerful security services in the heart of the capital since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March.

The funeral prayers, at Damascus's central Omayyad Mosque, came as an Arab League delegation met Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, to discuss the arrival of a team to oversee a deal aimed at ending nine months of bloodshed.

Muallem has said he expects the observers to vindicate his government's contention the unrest is the work of "armed terrorists", not overwhelmingly peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and human rights watchdogs.

Asked by reporters to comment on suggestions the bombings had been engineered by the regime itself, Faisal Meqdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, replied: "Anyone who makes such allegations is a criminal."

But the opposition Syrian National Council said in a statement that: "The Syrian regime, alone, bears all the direct responsibility for the two terrorist explosions."

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In Cairo, the Arab League's Ahmed Ben Helli said the mission will head to Syria on Monday, grouping more than 50 experts in politics, human rights, military issues and crisis management, the official MENA news agency reported.

The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that also calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

But opposition leaders have charged that Syria's agreement to the mission after weeks of prevarication was a mere "ploy" to head off a threat by the Arab League to go to the UN Security Council over the nine-month crackdown.

The Security Council condemned Friday's attacks but remained deadlocked on a full resolution on the crisis with the Russian and US ambassadors trading personal barbs.

While not rejecting Syria's account of the events, France accused the regime of trying "to mask the reality of the repression, notably by transferring political prisoners to secret jails".

Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN leader was "gravely concerned" about the escalation and urged the government to "fully and speedily" implement the Arab League plan.

"[Ban] urges the need for a credible, inclusive and legitimate Syrian-led process of comprehensive political change that will address the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people," a statement by the secretary-general read.

Source:
Agencies
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