|Assad has decreed death penalty for anyone caught distributing arms with “aim of committing terror acts” [Reuters]|
At least 82 people are reported to have been killed in a day of violence across Syria, less than a week before an Arab League delegation is due to visit the country as part of a deal to end the bloodshed.
Activists reported the deaths on Tuesday after heavy fighting in the province of Idlib and elsewhere.
The violence comes a day after at least 100 people were reported killed across Syria, and just days before the scheduled arrival of a team of Arab observers.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said: “Activists and opposition figures say killings in Idlib area are very large.”
“Dozens have been killed but people differ who were among those killed; some say they were defectors, others say armed men who oppose the government,” she said.
The team is to arrive in the Syrian capital, Damascus, later this week as part of a deal signed between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Arab League in order to end the violence.
“It’s a completely new mission … and it depends on implementation in good faith,” Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League chief, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
He said that the initial team would go to Syria on Thursday, with the rest due to arrive by the end of December. The Arab League wants to get 500 monitors into Syria by the end of this month.
“In a week’s time, from the start of the operation, we will know (if Syria is complying),” el-Araby said.
The advance team will include security, legal and administrative observers, with human rights experts expected to follow, a League official said.
Syria stalled for weeks before signing the protocol on Monday to accept the monitors who will check its compliance with the Arab plan for an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.
Change in stance
The change in stance had come as the Arab League threatened to ask the UN Security Council to adopt its peace plan for Syria, broadening the chances of international action.
As international pressure mounted, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn Syria’s use of force to quell protests, with Russia and China abstaining instead of voting against.
Damascus said Russia, its longtime ally and arms supplier, had urged it to sign the protocol on the Arab monitors.
Syria agreed to another Arab peace plan in early November, but the violence raged on, prompting Arab states to announce financial sanctions and travel bans on Syrian officials.
Elaraby said those measures would remain until monitors begin reporting back. Arab ministers would decide the next step.
He said Gulf states would contribute about 60 of a 150-strong monitoring team led by a Sudanese general, which would expect freedom of movement and communication, including access to prisons and hospitals.
Journalists would also accompany the team, he said.
Al Jazeera’s Amin said that “people on the ground hope that the observers’ presence on the ground would deter the government and would actually decrease the level of violence and may even encourage more people to take to the streets and put more pressure on the government”.
“Now the government is betting that the observers would actually try to verify some of its own account on what’s happening,” Amin said.
“It’s a very challenging task for the Arab League, they have never undertaken such mission before, and the rules of engagement are still to be worked out with the Syrian government.
“Will the monitors be able to travel freely on their own, will they feel safe to travel to places like Idlib and Homs? Probably events on the ground will dictate how will this mission evolve.”
Meanwhile, the state news agency SANA said on Tuesday that Assad had decreed the death penalty for anyone caught distributing arms “with the aim of committing terrorist acts”.
The Arab League deal does not appear to have ended the bloodshed.
Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply sceptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule.
In recent months, their peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations often led by army deserters.
Some opposition leaders have called for foreign military intervention to protect civilians from Assad’s forces.
The Syrian authorities have made it hard for anyone to know what is going on in their troubled country. They have barred most foreign journalists and imposed tight curbs on local ones.
The UN has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests erupted in March, inspired by a wave of uprisings across the Arab world.
Several weeks ago Damascus said 1,100 members of the security forces had been killed by “armed terrorist gangs”.