Syrians hold rallies to demand Arab action

At least 17 people are believed to have been killed as protests are held against League’s perceived foot dragging.

Protest Syria

At least 17 people were believed to have been killed by Syrian forces as demonstrators held mass protests against the Arab League’s perceived foot dragging on punishing the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition activists said on Friday that more than 200,000 protested in the central city of Homs alone, where they reported the death of at least nine people.

The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network also said that three people were killed in the other central city of Hama, three in the southern province of Deraa and two in Damascus suburbs.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hadi Abdullah, an activist from Homs, said that a pregnant woman in labour named Nisreen Toukatli died at a checkpoint in al-Houla, a town 20km away from the city. She was on her way to the hospital to give birth to twins.

“This is not the first time that pregnant women or injured people are forbidden at al-Houla checkpoint from reaching the hospital.”

State media said there were no deaths or injuries on Friday, despite what they said were attacks by “armed terrorist groups” on security forces.

News from Syria cannot be independently verify, as authorities have barred most foreign media from the country since the protests began in March.

Friday’s anti-government protests were dubbed “The Arab League is Killing us – Enough Deadlines.”

The 22-member bloc has said it postponed a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, scheduled for Saturday in Cairo, to allow more time for Damascus to endorse a peace plan or face sanctions.

An Arab diplomat based in Beirut told dpa news agency that the meeting had been put off to give Russia a chance to support the Arab League’s efforts to end the violence.  However, a League taskforce chaired by Qatar will gather in Doha on Saturday with delegates from Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Oman.

Russia and China on Thursday submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Syria.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council’s presidency in December, did not disclose the exact content of the text, but said it would be discussed by the 15-member body.

Churkin talks to Al Jazeera about the draft resolution

Vitaly Churkin told Al Jazeera that Russia believed there had been “considerable excesses” by some Syrian forces dealing with demonstrators.

However, he also said “extreme elements” had exploited protests and used demonstrators as “human shields” in order to attack police and security forces.

“We do believe that it’s not only the authorities but also extremist opposition forces who are causing damage and killing people so that is reflected in our draft,” he said.

“In the end, we want to have a strong statement in favour of stopping violence, upholding human rights, expediting reforms including constitutional reforms and encourage the Arab League to play a constructive, positive and peaceful role.”

The Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported that Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa had arrived in Moscow on Friday for talks.

Al-Sharaa was to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov and other officials.

Meanwhile, opposition activists claimed on the internet that a battalion of Syrian army soldiers had defected and joined a dissident army fighting al-Assad’s regime.

Deserters were reportedly behind a series of recent attacks against military facilities in some areas of Syria.

‘No foreign intervention’

In Tunisia, the country’s new President Moncef Marzouki said in an interview aired on Friday he was against foreign intervention in Syria.

“Of course I am opposed to foreign intervention in Syria,” he told France 24 in his first comments on the crisis in Syria

since taking office Tuesday, after the first elections since the Arab Spring was unleashed in his country.

“I am sorry to see the Syrian revolution sliding towards violence,” he said.

“I hope that our Syrian brothers both inside and outside the country will unite and play a moral role to ensure that this revolution is democratic, peaceful, non-ethnic and without foreign intervention.”

Tunisia is hosting a three-day meeting of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria’s main opposition bloc.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the SNC and a Sorbonne University professor, said the goal of the meeting is to inject “more force and energy” into the opposition struggle.

Meanwhile, Turkey said that Damascus would lose more than $100 million a year in transport revenues as Ankara plans to bypass Syria by opening alternative export routes to the Middle East and Gulf.

The Turkish economy ministry said it had finalised plans to export goods to Egypt via sea in January and from there overland to Gulf countries.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies