An Arab League team held “frank and friendly” talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday in a bid to mediate with the opposition, as activists said at least 20 people were killed in violence.
“The meeting with President Assad was frank and friendly and we are going to continue our talks on October 30,” said Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani.
“We took note of the commitment of the Syrian government to work with the Arab committee to reach a solution.”
Headed by Qatar, the League’s current chair, the delegation comprises the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
Arabi had said he hopes “the Syrian regime will agree to this initiative, and begin with genuine reforms,” in comments to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
“It is my prerogative as secretary general of the Arab League to meet with any member of the peaceful opposition,” said Arabi, referring to a “disagreement” with Damascus after he met members of the Syrian opposition.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 20 people, including nine government soldiers, had been killed in the latest unrest between Assad loyalists and opponents.
“Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in Al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road,” it said.
Clashes between security forces and soldiers who have deserted and joined the opposition calling for the ouster of Assad, have become more frequent in past weeks, particularly in the center of the country.
Late on Wednesday, activists told Al Arabiya that heavy fire was heard in most of the streets in Al Khalidiya, a Homs neighborhood. Earlier, the activists said that security forces were planning to storm a Damascus suburb later in the night.
The Britain-based Observatory said that seven civilians, including a baby, were shot dead by security forces in the central Homs region, a bastion of the Syrian opposition.
Another civilian was killed by shots from a military checkpoint at Saraqeb, in the northwestern province of Idlib, a 63-year-old man was killed in the eastern region of Abu Kamal, and a child in Douma, near the capital, it added.
U.S. senators, meanwhile, urged the United Nations to refer credible charges of crimes against humanity by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
At an urgent session in Cairo on Oct. 16, the 22-member Arab League called for “national dialogue” between Syria’s government and the opposition by the end of October to help end the violence and avoid “foreign intervention” in Syria.
Syria’s representative to the Arab League Youssef Ahmad had slammed what he said was a “conspiracy” against President Assad’s regime at the Cairo meeting.
Headed by Qatar, the delegation includes the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Arabi.
The Syrian opposition meanwhile called for a general strike across the country in protest against the regime’s brutal crackdown on protest that has left at least 3,000 people dead since mid-March, according to U.N. figures.
“Arabs, do not get more involved in the bloodshed against us,” said a statement by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a coalition representing some 40 opposition blocs.
“We will not accept anything less than Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and his trial,” they said.
Protests against the Syrian regime erupted in March and have shown no signs of dying down despite the rising death toll.
Nine Syrian soldiers, including an officer, were killed on Wednesday by a rocket, probably fired by army deserters, in the flashpoint Hama region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road,” the Britain-based rights group said.
Referring Assad to ICC
Meanwhile, U.S. senators late Tuesday called on the U.N. Security Council to refer credible charges of crimes against humanity by President Assad to the ICC.
In a letter to Washington’s U.N. envoy, Susan Rice, the lawmakers said it was time for the ICC to look into “deeply troubling and grave charges” against Assad amid his government’s bloody crackdown on protestors.
“It is paramount that the Security Council refers credible allegations of crimes against humanity by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to the International Criminal Court,” they wrote, according to AFP.
Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, his party’s number-two in the chamber, as well as Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer signed the letter to Rice.
According to U.N. estimates, more than 3,000 people have been killed in the crackdown against dissent since protests erupted in Syria in mid-March amid an “Arab Spring” of demonstrations across the region.
“The people of Syria deserve to know that the people of the United States understand their plight, stand behind them, and will work to bring justice to their country,” the senators wrote.
The lawmakers noted that U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, an open critic of the crackdown, left Syria “due to credible threats to his safety” and said this “should also be deeply troubling” to the U.N. Security Council.
Assad’s government says it is serious about political reform, which militants wanted to wreck. The opposition says Assad has no plan to relax his grip on power, citing a spike in killings, arrests, torture and assassinations.
According to U.N. estimates more than 3,000 people have been killed in the crackdown against dissent since protests erupted in Syria in mid-March.