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Arabs demand Syria halt violence

BEIRUT (AP) — The Arab League demanded Sunday that the Syrian government immediately stop all violence and allow more monitors in, as activists reported at least 10 more civilians, including two teenagers, were killed by regime forces.

Fierce clashes in the south between government troops and military defectors left 11 soldiers dead, activists said. The Arab League also called on other armed parties to halt all bloodshed, an apparent reference to the defectors.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani said the ministers did not agree to call for U.N. experts to join the observers’ mission in Syria, but said U.N. experts will train the monitors in Cairo before they leave. Even had they called for the U.N. experts to go in, Syria’s regime may well have blocked them.

The success of the mission, said Al Thani, who heads the committee, “depends on the government of Syria, and that means stopping the killings, withdrawing troops from the cities, and allowing journalists to work and enter Syria.”

The ministerial committee called on “the Syrian government and various armed groups to immediately halt all forms of violence and to return to protesting peacefully for the success of the Arab League observers’ mission in Syria.”

At the meeting, the head of the observers issued his first report on the mission, sharing photos, maps and initial findings.

The five foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League, who met in Cairo, said the 165 Arab League monitors now on the ground need greater independence from President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The monitors are supposed to be ensuring Syrian compliance with a plan to end the government’s crackdown on dissent. The Arab League plan calls on Syria to remove heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from all cities, free all political prisoners and allow in human rights organizations and foreign journalists. Syria agreed to the plan on Dec. 19.

Opposition activists say around 450 people have been killed by Assad’s regime since observers began work in Syria nearly two weeks ago.

A Syrian activist in Cairo, Thaer Al-Nashef, told The Associated Press that the regime is misleading the observers and that the mission has done nothing to resolve the crisis. He said the issue should be dealt with at the U.N. Security Council.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said observers will continue their monthlong mission in Syria, despite claims by activists that the mission is giving cover to Assad’s crackdown on protesters and delaying further action.

Although the Arab League said it needs more monitors in Syria, ministers on Sunday did not name an exact number. Initially, the League had requested to send 500 monitors, but so far Syria has allowed in only 165.

Amnesty: Mideast protests, repression to continue

CAIRO (AP) — Amnesty International warned of another year of protests and government repression in the Middle East if the region’s rulers do not ensure democratic and human rights for their people.

In a report released Monday on the 2011 Arab uprisings, the London-based organization detailed the harsh measures governments across the region used to suppress protests calling for democratic reforms and greater freedoms. It also noted that activists across the region have refused to accept bogus promises and appear unlikely to give up their demands.

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