Syrian deserters seize town of Douma northeast of Damascus, scores killed

Pro-government Syrian police faces protesters during demonstrations against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Douma Dec.30, 2011. (Reuters)

Syrian army deserters on Saturday seized the town of Douma just northeast of Damascus after fierce fighting, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement, as escalated violence throughout the country killed left 94 people dead, including 60 from the town of Idlib alone.

“Groups of deserters took control of all districts in the town of Douma, near Damascus, after fierce fighting on Saturday with Syrian security forces,” the Observatory's chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, citing militants there.

The latest development came amid intensified violence across the country with the Revolution’s General Commission reporting the death of 94 people, 60 of them were found in Idlib hospital morgue,

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported that an explosion killed at least 14 people and injured 32 on a minibus carrying prisoners in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

“Eleven prisoners were killed in the explosion which targeted a prison truck on the road between Idlib town and the village of Mastumeh,” The Syrian Observatory’s chairman, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP by telephone.

A number of security personnel accompanying the prisoners were wounded, Abdel Rahman said, without being able to provide details.

The British-based group, which monitors a 10-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gave no further details. No independent confirmation was available.

Separately, the Observatory reported that a member of the security forces was killed in fighting between dissidents and soldiers at Kfarnebel, in the Zawiya mountains of Idlib province, with troops using heavy machineguns.

It also said security forces had arrested seven people Saturday, including four members of the same family, in Iblin village.

The Syrian Coordination Committees had also reported that 30 dead bodies were in found Idlib National Hospital, including the bodies of prisoners, Al Arabiya TV reported.

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since anti-regime demonstrations erupted in March.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has formally asked the Arab League to refer the Syrian crisis to the U.N. Security Council, after Arab observers failed to end the bloodshed, an opposition spokeswoman said.

Syrian opposition groups have called in the past for the case to be referred to the Security Council but had not made a formal request to the 22-member League, whose foreign ministers are due to discuss the Syrian crisis on Sunday.

“We think that when the Arab League refers the case to the United Nations and to the Security Council the situation will change,” SNC spokeswoman Basma ElKadamny told reporters in Cairo on Saturday.
Asked about Chinese and Russian opposition to any Security Council involvement, she said: “When the Arab League transfers the case to the United Nations and affirms to the world that the Syrian regime is not cooperating with the Arab League, all countries will have to take new positions.

A ‘tool’ used by U.S.

Syrian state newspaper Ath-Thawra earlier described the Gulf state of Qatar, which has called for Arab troops to deploy in crisis-hit Syria, as a “tool” being used by the United States against Damascus.

The claim was made as Arab League foreign ministers are to meet in Cairo on review an observer mission critics say has been unable to stem the violence in Syria. League officials have voiced satisfaction with the mission’s progress so far.

“It is clear that Qatar, disappointed by the first report of the observers, has started to distance itself from the Arab League and the report expected” on Sunday, the paper wrote.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, only has use for the observers if they give “their approval to put in place his plans, conforming with the obligations taken from Washington”, the paper alleged.

The emir told the U.S.-television program “60 Minutes” that Arab troops should deploy in Syria to “stop the killing,” in an interview broadcast last Sunday. Syria has fiercely rejected the proposal.

The paper accused Qatar of financing the armed insurgents that Damascus blames for fuelling 10 months of unrest that has claimed more than 5,400 lives, according to U.N. estimates.

The paper charged that Washington does not want to be “directly implicated” in the Syria crisis and therefore “intends to turn Qatar into a tool to tear down” Assad’s regime.

The head of the Arab League mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, will present a report to Arab foreign ministers, after a meeting of the League’s Syria crisis panel, which is chaired by Qatar.

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