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Middle East

Syria agrees 'in principle' to allow Arab League observers in


Syria has agreed "in principle" to allow an observer mission into the country, a senior official in Damascus said today, as security forces killed 11 anti-government protesters and France called for tough UN Security Council action.

The Arab League formally suspended Damascus this week over its crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising, which the UN estimates has killed more than 3,500 people. The group wants to send dozens of observers to the country to try to help end the bloodshed.

"Syria has agreed in principle to the Arab League proposal (for observers) and we are still studying the details," the senior Syrian official said Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is so sensitive.

Syrian opposition members said Syria's stance was just a stalling tactic.

"We have warned in the past and we warn again that these are the methods of the regime to waste time," said Omar Idilbi, a Beirut-based member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of regime opponents. "This is an attempt by the regime to gain more time."

Syrian activists said at least 11 people were killed as security forces on Friday fired on anti-government protests. Friday has become the main day for protests in Syria as thousands of people stream out of mosques following afternoon prayers.

Arab League officials in Cairo, the seat of the 22-member organization, could not immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

But Egypt state TV reported that the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, said he received "amendments" from Damascus, which the League is studying.

President Bashar Assad is facing mounting pressure from home and abroad over the country's crisis, which appears to be spiraling out of control as attacks by army defectors increase and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves. The escalating violence has raised fears of civil war.

"We call on the Syrian opposition to avoid recourse to an armed insurrection," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, Turkey. "A civil war would of course be a true catastrophe."

Asked about the possibility of foreign intervention, Juppe said: "This would have to be within the framework of the UN Security Council."

He also called on the Security Council to act against Assad's regime, saying the time has come to strengthen sanctions against Syria.

"We must continue to exert pressure," Juppe said. "The UN must act."

But longtime Syrian ally Russia urged caution. In October, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday urged the UN Security Council to be restrained in drafting a resolution condemning the violent crackdown on dissent.

"We are ready to work with the international community, but we urge restraint and cautiousness," Putin told Russian news agencies when asked whether Russia is going to support a UN resolution.

However, Putin added that Russia is not going to "ignore opinions of our partners and will cooperate with everyone."