|The Free Syrian Army and the political opposition have set up a hotline to co-ordinate their action against Assad [AFP]|
Two members of Syria’s parliament have left the country, saying they are joining the opposition movement against President Bashar al-Assad, as the crackdown on anti-government protests continues.
Nawaf al-Bashir, a tribal leader and MP from Deir Ezzor, told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV on Monday that he had “come to Turkey to activate the opposition”. He said he was a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the most prominent opposition bloc.
Bashir’s announcement came a day after MP Imad Ghalioun, who represented the central city of Homs, also told Al-Arabiya that he had fled to Cairo.
He called Homs “disaster stricken” and said the city has been subjected to sweeping human-rights violations. Homs has been one of the most volatile regions in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March.
Ghalioun said he was able to leave Syria before a travel ban was imposed on officials and that there are many legislators who support the uprising but have not said so publicly.
Bashir, speaking on Monday, said he had previously been coerced into appearing on Syrian state television to praise Assad’s reforms and that he had been interrogated by security forces 75 times. He said he would be based in Istanbul but would undertake a tour of the Middle East to discuss the Syrian revolution.
The UN has said that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March, not including an estimated 400 people the organisation thinks have been killed in the past three weeks, despite the presence of observers dispatched by the Arab League.
Activists said Syrian security forces fired on a town that observers were visiting on Monday. The team was in Ariha, in Idlib province, as part of the Arab League mission to monitor an end to the violence, the activists said.
The mission is due to end on Thursday but the monitors may extend their stay to January 22.
The activists reported the deaths of at least 21 people across the country on Monday.
Random gunfire by armed men loyal to Assad killed five people, including a woman, and wounded nine in Homs, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
A sniper later shot dead a 16-year-old girl in the city, the SOHR said.
It further said five soldiers were killed when they tried to change sides during a clash with opposition fighters in Idlib, and that 15 soldiers succeeded in defecting.
For its part, the state news agency SANA said an “armed terrorist group” killed Brigadier-General Mohammed Abdul-Hamid al-Awad and wounded his driver in the countryside near Damascus.
Liaison office formed
Reports of Monday’s violence came as the political and military opposition to Assad announced that they had set up a liaison office to co-ordinate their action aimed at bringing down his government.
SNC said in a statement on Monday the decision to create the office was taken in talks on Saturday with the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is comprised of deserters from the military.
In addition to the office, a hotline “to follow internal political developments on the ground” was created, the SNC said. It did not say where the office would be located.
Syrian fighters have regrouped in Lebanon to plan raids on Syrian government checkpoints [Al Jazeera]
The SNC statement said further meetings would be held involving military experts “to strengthen the capacity of the FSA against regime forces and to protect civilian regions which the regime wants to raid or pillage”.
The talks also focused on efforts to “restructure FSA units and create a modern and flexible structure … to allow for rapid deployment” and cope with the daily inflow of deserting officers and soldiers.
The FSA claims to have gathered some 40,000 fighters under its command since March.
On the diplomatic front, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, reiterated on Monday a call for Assad to “stop killing, and listen to his people”.
During a visit to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he said: “I hope the UN Security Council handles Syria in a coherent manner and with a sense of gravity”, but did not recommend any specific action.
“The casualties have reached such an unacceptable stage, we cannot let the situation continue this way,” Ban said.
Assad issued a decree granting amnesty to anyone who committed crimes “in the context of the events taking place since March 15, 2011, till the date of issuing the decree”, SANA reported on Sunday.
Assad has freed 3,952 prisoners since the outbreak of the uprising, SANA said. The opposition, however, says there are thousands more held incommunicado in Syrian prisons.
Assad has made similar decrees on three previous occasions in May, June and November.