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Syria asks for Arab help against U.S. involvement in ‘bloody events’

Syria has sent the Arab League a letter asking for support against what it called U.S. involvement in “bloody events” in the country amid increasing opposition calls for international protection of civilians against the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The statement said the letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused Washington “of actual involvement in bloody events in Syria” and asked the League to “condemn the involvement and to do what is necessary to end it.”

The Syrian government allegations followed calls by opposition groups for “international protection for civilians” in the central city of Homs, besieged by the forces of President Assad and theater of deadly clashes between soldiers and alleged army deserters.

Declaring Homs a “humanitarian disaster area,” the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime.”

In a statement received by AFP in Nicosia, it called on the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres.”

The Syrian National Council, which groups the main currents of the opposition, also called in its statement for the evacuation of civilians away from “areas that are under shelling and destruction.”

The group said the Syrian regime had “launched a large-scale attack” overnight Sunday to Monday on the neighborhoods of Homs and that “indiscriminate slaughter is being committed by the regime’s militias.”

The army, which has sought to crush the protest movement that erupted in March through force, was “using heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and warplanes to bomb populated residential neighborhoods” in Homs, it said.

“For the fifth consecutive day, the Syrian regime imposed a brutal siege on the brave city of Homs, aiming to break the will of its residents, and to brutalize its steadfast people who have dared to reject the regime’s authority and mandate, and insisted on demanding their legitimate rights for freedom and dignity,” it added.

Over 100 killed in past week

More than 110 people have been reported killed in the past week in Homs, a city of about 800,000 that has turned into one of the main centers of protest and reprisal during the nearly 8-month-old revolt against Assad, according to Ibrahim Hozan, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees activist network.

The violence comes despite claims by Syria that it is complying with an Arab League-sponsored plan to end the crackdown.

The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 people have been killed across Syria in a brutal crackdown by the security forces since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy artillery clashes erupted overnight between soldiers and presumed army defectors in Homs leaving “dozens of dead and wounded in both camps.”

“Shooting could be heard in Homs where neighborhoods came under heavy machinegun fire at dawn,” said the Observatory in a statement, adding “more than 40 explosions were heard.”

One citizen was killed in the neighborhood of Deir Baalba in Homs after “being shot by Syrian security forces” said the Observatory, which added that soldiers had also entered Baba Amro neighborhood and “started demolishing shops.”

Residents there saw a truck “filled with corpses,” it added.

Much of the violence of the past few days is reported to have involved members of the military who defected to the protesters and were fighting to protect civilians, according to activist groups.

“There is a major campaign of arrests going on in some of the toughest neighborhoods of the district,” an activist in Homs told The Associated Press by telephone. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his personal safety.

In Homs province, meanwhile, an eight-year-old girl was killed and a woman wounded after security forces stationed at a checkpoint in the area of Hula “fired indiscriminately,” it said.

Violent overnight clashes pitting Syrian soldiers and gunmen believed to be dissidents also erupted in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province, near the border with Turkey, but there was “no information yet on the number casualties,” the Observatory said.

Dozens of soldiers searched cars for people “wanted” by the regime, it said.

In Damascus province, a 63-year-old man succumbed to his wounds after being shot by security forces the previous day, the rights watchdog said.

In the coastal city of Banias, worshippers leaving from Al-Radwan mosque staged a rally calling for the “fall of the regime” and the “execution of the president.”

Security forces responded by raiding the homes surrounding the mosque.

The latest deaths bring to at least 70 the number of people killed since Assad’s government signed on to the Arab League peace plan on November 2.

Violence in Syria has continued unabated, though Damascus agreed to an Arab-brokered peace plan to halt its crackdown on the uprising that the U.N. says has left 3,000 people dead.

The violence prompted Qatar’s prime minister to call for an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the Syrian government’s failure to abide by its commitments.

Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported Sunday that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani called for the meeting “in light of the continuing acts of violence and the Syrian government’s noncompliance” with the terms of the Arab plan.

Under the Arab League plan, Syria’s government agreed to pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

Arab League deputy secretary general Ahmed bin Heli told reporters Monday that the League had received a message from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem about “measures adopted by the Syrian government to implement the Arab league plan to solve the Syrian crisis.”

Bin Heli did not elaborate on the measures that the Syrian government said it had taken, nor on the other contents of the message.