Last Updated: Sun Aug 28, 2011 13:46 pm (KSA) 10:46 am (GMT)

Arab League chief will confront Assad amid escalating army violence

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi announced that he would head to Damascus in an effort to solve the crisis. (Photo by REUTERS)
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi announced that he would head to Damascus in an effort to solve the crisis. (Photo by REUTERS)

As Syrian security forces were fighting in a gun battle with army defectors near a Damascus suburb overnight, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi announced that he would head to Damascus in an effort to solve the crisis, according a statement issued early Sunday after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers.

The statement did not say when Arabi would visit Syria, but the army’s persistent attacks on anti-regime protesters have been heavily condemned by the 22-member Arab League.

In sending a ministerial delegation to Damascus, the League hopes the move will “directly inform the Syrian leader of the Arab position,” the Omani foreign minister Youssef Bin Alawi said during the opening session of the league’s meeting.

“There has been an agreement in talks held between the Arab states on ... pressuring the Syrian regime to completely stop the military operations and withdraw its forces,” a delegate to the 22-member Arab League’s council, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Damascus suburbs attacked


Overnight, residents in Harasta, the Damascus suburb, said that pro-Assad army forces had fired at a crowd of marching demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the capital.

Dozens of soldiers fled into an area of orchards and farmland after pro-Assad security forces fired at large. But Syrian authorities have continued to deny any army defections taking place.

“The army has been firing heavy machineguns throughout the night at al-Ghouta, an area of old gardens surrounding Damascus, and they were being met with response from smaller rifles,” a resident of Harasta told Reuters by phone.

Damascus, home to the country’s upper-middle and middle classes, had failed to be widely associated with anti-Assad groups and their protest since the uprising began in mid-March.

But now, as demonstrations near the capital, Syrian security forces have been using greater force on protesters in and around Damascus.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, heavy gunfire was also used to disperse 5,000 demonstrators late on Saturday, activists said.

Security forces had also killed four people in Aleppo, one in Damascus and another in Idlib on Saturday, according to local Co-ordination Committees of Syria activist network.

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