Syria BEIRUT (Reuters): At least 23 people were reported killed in Syria on Saturday as violence intensified in the eighth month of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, pushing the death toll close to 4,600, an activist group said.
The Arab League, which has deepened Assad’s isolation by announcing economic sanctions against Damascus, gave Syria until Sunday to sign an initiative to end the crackdown, Qatar’s foreign minister said.
He did not explicitly say when the sanctions would come into force, but said they would be imposed soon if Syria does not sign the deal, which includes Arab monitors to ensure that Damascus abides by a promise to end violence.
In a three-hour, night-time battle in the north-western city of Idlib near the Turkish border, seven members of the security forces, five army rebels and three civilians were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Five civilians were shot dead by security forces in central Homs province, and a man’s body was returned to his family five days after he had been arrested. The United Nations’ top human rights forum has condemned Syria for “gross and systematic” violations by its forces, including executions and the imprisonment of some 14,000 people.
Syrian authorities say they are fighting foreign-backed “terrorist groups” trying to spark civil war who have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police since March.
An “Arab Spring” of revolts has reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East this year and toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Syrian opposition groups say defectors from Syria’s conscript army are increasing attacks on government forces trying to suppress the revolt.
Syria faces deepening international and regional isolation, with the Arab League, the European Union and the United States piling on tougher and tougher sanctions.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has played a lead role in organising Arab League sanctions, said the League gave Damascus one day to sign its initiative.