Assad offers an amnesty to the 'criminals' of the Syrian uprising

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Opposition groups scoff at pardon for protesters as calls grow for foreign military intervention

Cairo

Syrian opposition groups last night poured scorn on President Bashar al-Assad's offer of an amnesty to his opponents, with one of the most senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood saying the time had come for foreign military intervention.

Mr Assad, who has faced a 10-month insurrection that shows no sign of fizzling out, tried to stave off the threat to his 11-year rule by offering to pardon those guilty of "crimes" committed since his crackdown. The announcement, which came as observers from the Arab League concluded their visit to the country, was derided by opposition groups.

"Anything he has announced in the past has never been implemented," said Basma Kadmani, a leading member of the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. "I think our scepticism is justified."

Dr Kadmani said she saw "no chance" that soldiers who had defected would return to the national army following President Assad's offer. Yesterday, one of the most senior members of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, Molham al-Drobi, explicitly called for foreign military action. "We are only asking the international community to protect our sons and daughters who are being killed in cold blood," he told The Independent.

He demanded an Arab military deployment or United Nations peacekeeping mission and said: "They need to send forces immediately."

Mr Assad's offer of an amnesty was being extended to protesters who had joined demonstrations or handled illegal weapons during the uprising, the state-run Sana news agency said. It also referred to the thousands of soldiers who defected to take up arms with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). A tersely worded statement on the news agency's website added: "The fugitives cannot benefit from the decree unless they turn themselves in prior to 31 January 2012."

Thousands of troops have deserted and now operate under the umbrella of the FSA, a force cobbled together in recent months and whose commanders have taken refuge in mountains in southern Turkey. The FSA claims it is 40,000-strong but other estimates put it at 10,000. Whatever the true figure, the presence of this large-scale guerrilla operation has heightened fears that Syria could descend into full-blown civil war.

Amid mounting pressure on Mr Assad, the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said on Saturday that Arab troops should be dispatched to Syria in a bid to end the bloodshed. "This is a signal that Arab cover for Syria is dissipating," said Andrew Tabler, an expert on Middle East affairs.

The fragmented nature of the opposition was underscored yesterday as the Muslim Brotherhood's call for foreign intervention was rejected by a spokesman for the National Co-ordination Committees. "They do not want the Arab League initiative to be applied here," said Dr Abdel-Aziz al-Khair. "They want people to take up arms against the regime."

Officials of the Assad regime bowed to pressure from the Arab League last month and allowed observers into Syria to check that Damascus was honouring its pledge to halt its crackdown and withdraw the military from urban areas. But, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists inside Syria, the military yesterday aimed shells at the mountain town of Zabadani, in the south-west, just hours before the arrival of a team of international observers.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, used his starkest language yet as he called yesterday for Mr Assad to end his crackdown, which the UN estimates has claimed more than 5,000 civilian lives.

Mr Ban told a UN conference on democracy in the Arab world, meeting in Beirut: "Today I say again to President Assad of Syria: "Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end. The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'