Arab observers set to arrive in Syria


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The Independent Online

A team of Arab observers headed to Syria today as neighbouring Turkey condemned President Bashar Assad for turning his country into a "bloodbath" after the regime killed more than 200 people this week alone.

The latest deaths in the nine-month uprising drew international condemnation.

More than 100 people were killed near a village about 30 miles from the northern border with Turkey on Tuesday.

Government troops surrounded residents and activists in a valley and unleashed a barrage of rockets, tank shells, bombs and gunfire in an hours-long assault that one activist described as an "organised massacre".

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died since March as Syria has sought to put down the uprising - part of the Arab Spring of protests that has toppled long-serving unpopular leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The Obama administration has accused the Syrian government of continuing to "mow down its people and the French foreign ministry said everything must be done to stop this "murderous spiral."

Turkey, once a close Syria ally, said today the violence was in stark contrast to the spirit of the Arab League deal Syria signed on to and is raising doubts about Syria's "true intentions."

"We strongly condemn the Syrian leadership's policies of oppression against its own people, which are turning the country into a bloodbath," a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.

Despite the latest violence, the Arab League appeared to be going ahead with plans to send in its first delegation of monitors.

The advance team, led by the League's assistant secretary-general, Sameer Seif el-Yazal, was to arrive in Syria later in the day. The team is to arrange logistics for an upcoming mission of around 20 experts in military affairs and human rights, which will head for Syria on Sunday.

Another team of 100 observers will leave for Syria within two weeks, according to the plan.

Fresh raids and indiscriminate shooting by government forces today killed at least six people in the central city of Homs, and in the south and northern provinces, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees.

Activists said given the high death toll of the past few days, the Syrian government appears to be furiously trying to control the situation on the ground before the full Arab League monitoring team arrives.

Indeed, activists said government forces appeared to have gained full control of the rebellious Jabal al-Zawiya region, as of Wednesday evening.

Many of them blamed the Arab League for giving the Syrian regime a lifeline and a chance to kill more people and called for nationwide protests on Friday against the observer mission.

"Protocol of death, a licence to kill," was the slogan for the planned protests, a reference to the protocol of the Arab League plan signed by Syria this week.