Tue, Dec 13, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Syrian forces fight against ex-soldiers

FUMING FRENCH:France’s foreign minister said Paris believed Syria was linked to a roadside bomb attack in Lebanon that injured French peacekeepers on Friday

AFP and Reuters, NICOSIA and AMMAN

Syrian security forces shot dead at least one person early yesterday as they launched a raid in the northwestern province of Idlib, where mutinous soldiers were fighting army troops, a rights group said.

The violence came as pro-democracy activists pushed a campaign of civil disobedience launched on Sunday with a general strike across Syria designed to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Five people were also wounded in Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Army deserters were locked in heavy fighting since dawn with regular troops in two Idlib villages, it added.

Similar fighting was also raging yesterday morning in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of nearly nine months of anti-regime dissent, it said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council said in a statement that the “dignity” general strike launched on Sunday was widely observed in 12 provinces across Syria against “all expectations.”

The council urged Syrian citizens from all walks of life as well as labor unions to pursue the strike, saying it was essential “for the success of the revolution and the establishment of a civilian democratic nation.”

The general strike is part of a campaign of civil disobedience called by activists who have announced plans to shut down universities, public transport, the civil service and major highways.

Rights groups had earlier reported that at least 13 civilians were killed on Sunday by regime forces, five of them in the flashpoint central province of Homs as fears grew of an “invasion” of the besieged protest hub.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss a response to Syria’s conditional acceptance of an Arab peace plan aimed at ending its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Egypt’s MENA news agency said, citing an Arab diplomat.

In Cairo, Egypt’s MENA news agency said Arab foreign ministers would meet on Saturday to discuss a response to Syria’s conditional acceptance of an Arab peace plan.

Syria faces sanctions from Arab nations in response to its violent crackdown on protests against Assad.

The Arab League repeatedly has extended deadlines for Syria to agree to a plan that would see Arab monitors oversee its withdrawal of troops from towns. The latest expired on Dec. 4.

MENA said that a small group of ministers would meet first on Saturday, followed by a broader meeting of ministers led by Qatar from the 22-member League the same day. Syria has been suspended from the League.

And in a major international development likely to raise Western pressure on Assad, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris believed Syria was behind attacks that wounded French peacekeepers in neighboring Lebanon on Friday.

France strongly condemned the attack in southern Lebanon, where a roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers. It was the third such incident this year involving UN forces deployed near the frontier with Israel.

“We have strong reason to believe these attacks came from there [Syria],” Juppe said on RFI radio. “We think it’s most probable, but I don’t have proof.”

When asked if he believed Hezbollah had carried out the attack on behalf of Damascus, Juppe said: “Absolutely. It is Syria’s armed wing [in Lebanon].”

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