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Middle East

Syrian forces kill nine after peace plan agreed

Syrian tanks mounted with machine-guns fired yesterday on a city at the heart of the country's uprising, just a day after Damascus agreed to an Arab League plan to pull its military out of cities, activists said. At least nine people were reported killed in the violence.

The assault does not bode well for the success of the Arab League initiative to solve a crisis that has endured for nearly eight months, despite a government crackdown that the UN estimates has left some 3,000 people dead.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Baba Amr district of Homs came under heavy fire yesterday from tanks and guns.

At least nine people were killed, according to the observatory and the activist coalition called the Local Coordinating Committees. Under the Arab League plan, Damascus agreed to stop violence against protesters, release all political prisoners and begin a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.

Syria also agreed to allow journalists, rights groups and Arab League representatives to monitor the situation in the country.

Najib al-Ghadban, a US-based Syrian activist and member of the opposition Syrian National Council, was sceptical that Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, would hold up his end of the deal. "This regime is notorious for manoeuvring and for giving promises and not implementing any of them," he said.

Syria blames the violence on "armed gangs" and extremists seeking to destabilise the regime in line with a foreign agenda, an assertion that raised questions about its willingness to cease all forms of violence. Previous attempts to hold dialogue with the opposition were unsuccessful.

The Arab League initiative appears to reflect the group's eagerness to avoid seeing another Gaddafi situation. AP