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Nine killed in Syria crackdown, Arab League urges dialogue
  • | AFP | October 17, 2011 07:56 AM

Nine people were killed on Sunday as Syrian security forces pressed a crackdown on political dissent in three separate hubs of protest against President Bashar al-Assad\'s regime, activists said.

Yussef Ahmed (C), Syrian ambassador to the Arab League, listens to an unidentified official before the start of an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the institution\'s headquarters in Cairo.

The latest killings came as Arab League foreign ministers meeting in an urgent session in Cairo urged "national dialogue" between Syria\'s government and the opposition in the Egyptian capital within 15 days.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in emailed statements received by AFP in Nicosia that four civilians died in the central city of Homs when security forces opened fire on a protest outside the home of a detained activist, Mansur al-Arassi.

Two other people were killed outside a mosque in the Khaldiyeh sector of the city by attackers who opened fire from a vehicle, the Britain-based Observatory said. It said 39 people were wounded in the two incidents.

In the Damascus region, one person was killed in the town of Zabadani, where security forces earlier arrested 25 people, including three young women.

The Observatory said the death occurred when security forces fired on people after they left a mosque and began protesting in the streets calling for the release of detainees.

In Idlib province of northwest Syria, two people were killed in Khan Sheikhun near the border with Turkey when security forces fired live rounds to break up a protest, the Observatory said.

Earlier in the day, security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for an activist in the oil-rich east.

"Syrian security forces in Deir Ezzor fired live bullets at a funeral procession for Ziad al-Obeidi," the rights watchdog said.

"Some 7,000 people took part in the funeral which turned into a demonstration calling for the fall of the regime," it said.

Obeidi, 42, was killed by security forces who were hunting for him in Deir Ezzor province. He had gone into hiding in August during military operations in the area.

In Cairo, the Arab League said after an urgent meeting of its foreign ministers it had decided to make contact with the Damascus government and a raft of oppposition groups with the aim of launching "national dialogue within the seat of the Arab League and under its guidance within 15 days."

Qatar foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the chair of the meeting who issued the statement, earlier insisted the gathering was not convened "under any agenda but to show concern for Syria and the Syrian people. Your brothers want to help."

Gulf states requested the meeting to discuss "the situation in Syria, which has deteriorated sharply, particularly in its humanitarian dimensions, and steps that could help end the bloodshed and halt the machine of violence."

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Friday that more than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in the fierce crackdown on dissent.

Syria\'s official news agency SANA, meanwhile, said an "armed terrorist gang" ambushed and killed two security agents in the city of Hama, a hotbed of dissent and focal point of a 10-day military operation in August.

It said two cars filled with arms were seized on the Homs-Tartus road and four "members of armed terrorist gangs" arrested. Thirty-four other wanted people were detained in Homs, the agency said.

A campaign of sweeping arrests has rounded up a total of 923 people over the past week, according to the Observatory.

Assad\'s regime blames "armed gangs" for the violence that has wracked Syria for the past seven months, but activists say most of the deaths are caused by security forces putting down non-violent protests.

A Damascus court, meanwhile, decided to release on bail Mazen Adi, a leading opposition figure who was detained on May 11, his lawyer said.

"The criminal court of Damascus decided on Sunday to free Mazen Adi, leader of the (banned) People\'s Democratic Party on 30,000 Syrian pounds (600 dollars) bail," said his lawyer Michel Shammas.

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