November 25, 2011 6:51 pm

Six killed by Syrian military, say activists

Activists said at least six Syrian civilians were killed in crackdowns on anti-government protests on Friday, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, facing the growing likelihood of Arab sanctions, said 10 military personnel had died in a separate attack.

Protesters dedicated this week’s demonstrations to the Free Syria Army, a group of rebel soldiers based in Turkey, which has been claiming responsibility for attacks on regime forces.

Syrian state news announced that one such attack on Friday led to the death of six pilots and four other military personnel at an air force base in the country’s eastern desert. An army statement blamed foreign interference, and vowed to “cut off the vicious hand that targets the Syrian blood”.

The new round of violence came as the Arab League, which earlier this month voted to suspend Damascus for its failure to halt violence, continued to press the Assad regime and demand it allow international observers into the country. A report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said the government had “far more to hide than to put on display”, anticipating it would only accept a monitoring mission which would corroborate the existence of armed groups, rather than document abuses by security forces.

The regime blames such armed groups for the unrest that has roiled Syria for eight months. November has been one of the bloodiest months in the uprising, with more than 400 people reported killed either by regime forces or armed opponents of the regime, who appear to be escalating their activities. Although observers in Syria said the overwhelming majority of anti-government protesters were peaceful when the uprising began, people have increasingly taken up arms as the death toll from the regime’s crackdown – about 3,500 – has climbed.

International pressure on the regime has been building this week, with the Alain Juppé, French foreign minister, proposing the creation of “humanitarian corridors” inside Syria and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish premier, saying Mr Assad should step down.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Friday that allowing observers in was Syria’s “last chance”. Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul with Italy’s foreign minister, he added he would travel to Cairo on Sunday to meet Arab foreign ministers and that “measures” would be discussed among both regional countries and Islamic countries.

“On Monday we will have an idea about the economic and political steps,” said Mr Davutoglu. Asked about the humanitarian corridor idea, he said: “Our priority is the Arab League’s offer and to send observers to stop bloodshed.”

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