* Governor tells Arab monitors authorities seek ceasefire
* Arab League chief tells Assad to stop killing "innocents"
* Russia opposes U.N. sanctions, intervention
By Mariam Karouny
HARASTA, Syria, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A 10-month-old revolt against President
Bashar al-Assad edged closer to the Syrian capital on Thursday as troops
battled rebels in a town just north of Damascus and a provincial governor
spoke of negotiating local ceasefires.
A Syrian officer told Reuters clashes had been under way in Douma since the
morning. Security forces were searching houses for arms and wanted suspects.
Reporters were shown home-made grenades among other seized weapons.
The officer was speaking in the tense suburb of Harasta nearby, where troops
were deployed in strength.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces had
detained 200 people in raids in Douma, a hotbed of protests and armed
rebellion against Assad.
Gunfire was close enough to be heard from central Damascus during the night.
"Many of them (in the opposition) have been misled. They will eventually
come back to the right way," Hussein Makhlouf, governor of Damascus
countryside, told Arab League monitors before they headed for some of the
capital's troubled suburbs.
"We have started a dialogue with them, including some armed groups that are
controlling positions there," Makhlouf said.
He told the observers that the authorities were using "the same approach as
in Zabadani, so the same scenario will happen".
This month the military withdrew armoured vehicles encircling the rebel-held
town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, after negotiating a truce
with its defenders.
Arab observers stopped at an entrance to the Damascus suburb of Irbin, where
a dozen soldiers stood guard. Beyond them a crowd of about 100 anti-Assad
protesters shouted slogans. The troops showed the monitors the bodies of a
soldier and another person they said had been killed in the morning.
The Arab observers soon drove away from the scene without going into the
There was no immediate word on casualties in the fighting near Damascus.
Elsewhere, three people were killed in Homs, a sniper killed a 58-year-old
woman in Hama and a 14-year-old boy was killed in the southern city of
Deraa, the British-based Observatory said.
The state news agency SANA said "terrorists" had assassinated a colonel in
Homs and detonated a bomb in Deraa province, killing an army lieutenant as
he tried to defuse it.
SANA said 21 soldiers, security personnel and civilians killed by "armed
terrorist groups" were buried on Thursday. It also reported pro-Assad
demonstrations in several cities.
The monitors, now without 55 Gulf Arab colleagues withdrawn by their
governments this week in protest at continued bloodshed, were resuming work
after a one-week gap during which the Arab League prolonged their mission by
Syrian opposition groups have accused the observer mission, which deployed
on Dec. 26, of giving Assad diplomatic cover to pursue a crackdown on
protesters and rebels in which more than 5,000 people have been killed since
March, by a U.N. tally.
The Arab League called on Sunday for Assad to quit as part of a transition
plan for which it is seeking U.N. support.
Western and Arab diplomats are working on a draft Security Council
resolution on Syria. Russia said it would promote its own text, but did not
rule out a compromise.
Russia, one of Syria's few remaining allies along with Iran, has rejected
sanctions or military action against Assad.
The Security Council could vote as early as next week on a Western-Arab
draft resolution, council diplomats said.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged Damascus to end military operations
against "defenceless civilians".
In recent months, an insurgency by army deserters and other rebels has
increasingly eclipsed peaceful protests against more than four decades of
rule by the Assad family.
Activists said the army deployment and clashes in townships around Damascus
were a response to insurgents' growing strength.
"The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has almost complete control of some areas of the
Damascus countryside and some control in Douma and Harasta," an activist
said by telephone from Harasta.
Other activists in Douma, Harasta and Irbin said security forces had
gathered in their towns after rebels retreated because they could not fight
pitched battles with the army.
"Assad's army has armoured vehicles and anti-aircraft guns while we only
have rifles and rocket-propelled grenades," said an FSA fighter who called
himself Abu Thaer.
The Arab League has suspended Syria and called for Assad to hand over to his
deputy, pending the formation of an unity government, constitutional and
security reform, and elections.
Michael Posner, the U.S. State Department's top human rights official, said
Washington would work with the League to end the bloodshed in Syria,
reiterating that Assad must go. (Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in
Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, John Irish in Paris and Tom Perry in
Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Jan 26 2012 - 13:15:05 EST