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Assad vows no exit as Arab deadline passes

Syrians wave their national flag and hold up a huge banner of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they rally in central in Damascus on November 20, 2011, to show their support as he defiantly vowed to fight and die if needed as an Arab League deadline for his government to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters expired. -AFP Photo

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defiantly vowed to fight and die if needed as an Arab League deadline for his government to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters expired with 20 more people killed.

Upping the pressure on Syria, the Arab League on Sunday announced it had rejected amendments proposed by Damascus to its proposal to send a 500-strong delegation to monitor the violence in Syria.

And Turkish President Abdullah Gul said there was “no place for authoritarian regimes” in the Mediterranean region.

Among the dead on the weekend were four intelligence agents killed as gunmen raked their car with gunfire and two mutinous soldiers who died in clashes with regular troops in the central town of Shayzar, rights campaigners said.

The latest bloodletting added to the more than 3,500 killed since mid-March, and came despite the Saturday's midnight (2200 GMT) deadline which had been set by the Arab League for Assad to end the crackdown or face sanctions.

With rebel troops inflicting mounting losses on the regular army, Turkey and the United States have both raised the spectre of civil war as Russia called for restraint.

But in an interview with London's Sunday Times, conducted before the Arab League deadline lapsed, Assad said he was “definitely” prepared to fight and die for Syria if faced with foreign intervention. “This goes without saying and is an absolute,” he said.

The president said he felt sorrow for each drop of Syrian blood spilt but insisted Damascus must go after armed rebel gangs and enforce law and order.

“The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue,” he said. “I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it.”

Assad accused the Arab League of creating a pretext for Western military intervention, which he said would trigger an “earthquake” across the Middle East.

Russia has staunchly resisted any attempt to invoke international involvement in the crisis, fearing it could clear the way for a Libya-style military campaign under a UN mandate.

“We are calling for restraint and caution. This is our position,” Putin said a day after after his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had also likened the situation in Syria to a civil war.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said he felt Assad had reached “a point of no return” with a change of regime possible within months. Turkey's president rounded on one-time ally Syria.

“I strongly believe that there is no place any more for authoritarian regimes, single party systems that do not have accountability or transparency, on the shores of the Mediterranean,” he told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

“As someone who has studied in the United Kingdom, lived in the United Kingdom, has this world view, President Assad should be able to understand this.”

The Arab League, in a statement issued in Cairo, said it had rejected a Syrian request to make changes to a proposal to send 500 observers to Damascus to help implement a peace deal agreed earlier this month.

“It was agreed that the amendments and appendices proposed by the Syrian side affect the core of the document and would radically change the nature of the mission which is to oversee the implementation of the Arab plan to end the crisis in Syria and protect Syrian civilians,” the statement said.

With the peace deal in tatters, the Arab League has already suspended Syria from the 22-member bloc and saw its deadline expire with no compliance from Assad's security forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three civilians were killed in security force fire on Sunday in Idlib province in the northwest and in Homs province in the centre.

Among 17 dead on Saturday, the Britain-based watchdog reported seven civilians killed in the Idlib town of Kfar Kharim, close to the Turkish border.

The Observatory also quoted a mutinous officer as saying that two army deserters “were killed in clashes with regular troops in Qusayr” in the restive central province of Homs.

Also in central Syria on Saturday, “deserters raked with gunfire a car carrying four members of the air force intelligence near the village of Al-Mukhtara on the Salmiyeh-Homs road, killing everyone on board”, the Observatory said.

The Observatory and another key Syrian opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported that the ruling Baath party in Damascus had been by hit several rocket-propelled grenades early on Sunday.

But an AFP reporter who went to the area found no trace of the attack while residents denied there had been explosions.


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