Another 20 soldiers were wounded in the fighting in Daraa province
AFP is using pictures from alternative sources and cannot be responsible for any alterations which cannot be independently verified. An image grab from YouTube shows Syrian army defectors reportedly pledging allegiance to the opposition in Idlib on January 2. Heavy clashes broke out before dawn on Sunday between the Syrian army and deserters, leaving 11 of its soldiers dead, activists said. © - AFP/YouTube/File
Another 20 soldiers were wounded in the fighting in Daraa province
Last updated: January 9, 2012

11 Syria troops killed in clashes with deserters

Syria's opposition on Monday denounced the Arab League for taking a step backwards in the country and called on the United Nations to take charge in efforts to end the regime's bloody crackdown on dissent.

State media said that President Bashar al-Assad would deliver a speech on Tuesday regarding "internal matters" in Syria, in a rare public address by the embattled leader.

The announcement comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- who has already called on Assad, his one-time ally and friend, to step down -- warned of a looming civil war in Ankara's southern neighbour.

In a statement, the Syrian National Council hit out the Arab League over the report which said the "killing has been reduced" and had recommended that a team of Arab monitors continue their mission.

"The council considers the report on the work of the observers a step backwards in the efforts by the League, and does not reflect the reality seen by the observers on the ground," said an SNC statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

The SNC expressed disappointment at the "slowness and reluctance of the Arab League in implementing the Arab plan, which clearly states the need for the military to return to their barracks, release all detainees, authorise peace demonstrations and give access to observers and journalists."

The umbrella group made up of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents urged the League to "immediately" begin talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon on proposing the Arab peace plan to the Security Council to "prevent procrastination".

It called for "the protection of civilians by all legitimate means in the context of international humanitarian law, including the establishment of safety and no-fly zones."

A team of Arab League monitors has been in Syria since December 26, trying to assess whether Assad's regime is complying with a peace accord aimed at ending the crackdown which the UN says has killed more than 5,000 people.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the SNC, had earlier denounced the Arab League after the bloc decided Sunday to extend its mission despite criticism it has been completely outmanoeuvred and is only serving to cover up the regime's crimes.

"It is clear that the observer mission in Syria seeks to cover up the crimes of the Syrian regime by giving it the time and opportunity to kill our people and break their will," Brotherhood spokesman Zuhair Salem said.

The SNC was urged to carry on with its resistance by Turkey, following talks on Sunday in Istanbul, and Prime Minister Erdogan warned action must be taken to prevent an all-out war.

"The situation that has emerged there is right now heading towards a religious, sectarian and racial civil war. This must be stopped," Erdogan told a televised news conference on Monday.

At a meeting in Cairo on Sunday, an Arab ministerial committee gave its widely criticised observer mission to Syria the green light to carry on and pledged to boost the number of monitors but said the committee may request "technical assistance" from the United Nations.

The committee urged Damascus "to fully and immediately implement its commitments" under the Arab plan, calling on all parties "to immediately stop all forms of violence."

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, grouping activists on the ground, said the meeting fell "short of expectations." The League should use the "necessary means" to halt the violence or admit failure, it said.

The head of the mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, is to give a report to the League on January 19 on Syria's compliance with the peace plan, the ministers said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, who chaired the Cairo meeting, called on Syria to "take a historic decision" to stop the bloodshed.

A report by the observers discussed at the meeting showed that "killing has been reduced. But even one killing (is too much)," said Sheikh Hamad, whose country has taken a lead role in efforts to resolve the crisis.

Sheikh Hamad said the League hoped to raise the number of observers to 300 "within the next few days" from around 163 now deployed.

Regime forces killed at least six more civilians Monday, including one in the central city of Homs, one in Hama to the north, one near Damascus and another three in northwestern Idlib, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a statement sent to AFP, the Britain-based Observatory called on observers to visit the Hama region where it reported tanks and armoured personnel carriers were deployed in violation of the Arab accord.

A television channel close to the regime, Dunia, said a convoy of Arab monitors came under fire from a "terrorist group" in Homs, wounding a driver.

Stepping up its attacks on Doha, the official media in Damascus on Monday accused the Qatari premier of "inciting violence" and working to sabotage the Arab mission.

His role at the meeting in Cairo "went beyond interference in the internal affairs of Syria, constituting a declaration of war," said the daily Tishrin.

Western efforts to raise the crisis at the UN Security Council have been stymied by Damascus ally Moscow.

Russia has a recently expanded naval base at Tartus on Syria's Mediterranean coast, where it docked a large flotilla headed by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on Saturday.

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