* Arab foreign ministers to discuss Syria on Jan. 22
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The U.N. chief told Bashar al-Assad on Sunday to
"stop killing your people" and the Syrian leader offered an amnesty for
"crimes" committed during a 10-month-old revolt against him.
Arab League foreign ministers will meet next Sunday to discuss the future of
a monitoring mission sent last month to check if Syria is respecting an Arab
Assad's violent response to the uprising has killed more than 5,000 people,
by a U.N. count. The Syrian authorities say 2,000 members of the security
forces have also been killed. At least 25 civilians and soldiers were
reported killed on Sunday.
"Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence, stop
killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end," U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a conference in Lebanon on democratic
transitions in the Arab world.
Assad's amnesty will run to the end of January, covering army deserters and
people who possessed illegal arms or had violated laws on peaceful protest,
the state news agency SANA said.
Syria's Addounia television said Arab monitors discussed the amnesty with
Damascus police on Sunday.
Opponents of Assad said the amnesty was meaningless because most detainees
were held without charge in secret police or military facilities with no due
process or legal documentation.
"The problem is not those who have reached trial or have been sentenced to
terms in civic jails but those who are imprisoned and we don't know where
they are or anything about them," said Kamal Labwani, who was freed last
month after six years as a political prisoner and is now in Jordan.
The Arab League's Syria committee, whose Qatari chairman has said the
observer mission has failed to staunch the bloodshed, will discuss a report
by the monitors on Friday, Egypt's MENA news agency said.
The Cairo-based League will not send any more monitors to Syria before the
Arab foreign ministers meet next Sunday, MENA said.
Anti-Assad protests began in March inspired by a wave of popular anger
against autocratic rulers sweeping the Arab world.
Assad has issued several amnesties since the start of protests, but
opposition groups say thousands of people remain behind bars and many have
been tortured or abused.
The Avaaz campaign group said on Dec. 22 at least 69,000 people had been
detained since the start of the uprising, of whom 32,000 had been released.
Freeing detainees was one of the terms of an Arab League peace plan which
also called for an end to bloodshed, the withdrawal of troops and tanks from
the streets and a political dialogue.
The movement to end more than four decades of Assad family rule began with
largely peaceful demonstrations, but after months of violence by the
security forces, army deserters and insurgents started to fight back,
prompting fears of civil war.
An opposition group said five textile workers were killed when a bomb hit
their bus in the northern province of Idlib on Sunday. SANA blamed the
attack on an "armed terrorist group".
SANA also said six soldiers killed by such groups were buried in the
rebellious central city of Homs.
Sunday's civilian death toll in Homs rose to 11, the British-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights reported. It said three people were also killed
in random shooting by security forces in the town of Qarqas in Quneitra
Live footage aired from Zabadani, a rebel-held town attacked by tanks and
troops on Friday, showed Arab League monitors walking among several thousand
demonstrators in the main square, where a large Christmas tree stands.
"God is greater than the oppressor," protesters shouted, while others held a
large white and green flag that was Syria's national emblem before Assad's
Baath party took power.
Qatar's emir, once a friend of Assad, has said Arab troops may have to step
in to halt bloodletting that has gone on unchecked despite the presence of
Arab League monitors sent to find out if the Arab peace plan agreed last
year is working.
Asked if he was in favour of Arab nations intervening in Syria, Qatari Emir
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told the U.S. broadcaster CBS: "For such a
situation to stop the killing ... some troops should go to stop the
The emir, whose country backed last year's NATO campaign that helped Libyan
rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi, is the first Arab leader to propose Arab
military intervention in Syria.
There is little Western appetite for any Libya-style intervention and an
Arab representative to the Cairo-based League said it had received no formal
proposal for such action.
"There is no official suggestion to send Arab troops to Syria at the current
time," he said. "There has been no Arab or a non-Arab agreement on a
military intervention in Syria."
China and Russia have blocked any action against Syria by the U.N. Security
Council. The United States, the European Union and the Arab League have
announced economic sanctions, although it is not clear if the Arab measures
have been implemented.
Turkey, whose foreign minister was in Beirut at the weekend, has also
imposed sanctions on Syria after the violence prompted it to turn against a
neighbour it had once courted assiduously.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he hoped more sanctions on
Syria could be agreed in the next 10 days or so, referring to a Jan. 23
meeting of EU foreign ministers.
In an interview with Sky News television, Hague also questioned the
sincerity of Assad's amnesty offer and said he hoped the Arab League would
refer Syria to the United Nations if the monitoring mission failed to halt
He dismissed the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria, saying there was no chance
for now of Security Council approval for such action, which was not
necessarily appropriate anyway.
"It's not primarily by flying aircraft that the Assad regime is repressing
its people," Hague said. (Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in
Amman, Dominic Evans in Beirut, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo and Adrian Croft in
London; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
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Received on Sun Jan 15 2012 - 16:45:54 EST