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Assad offers amnesty for giving up arms; U.S. advises Syrians against surrendering

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Syria has called on insurgents to turn themselves into authorities within one week starting on Saturday to qualify for an amnesty, state television said on Friday, as at least 25 people have been killed by the gunfire of security forces.

“The interior ministry calls on citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes, to hand themselves into the nearest police station,” it said, according to Reuters.

“The interior ministry assures that those who turn themselves in ... will then be freed immediately and it will be considered as a general amnesty,” it said.

The U.S. State Department on Friday advised Syrians against turning themselves in to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters amid apparent concerns for the welfare of those who might do so.

Nuland, who said the Assad regime has so far failed to live up to a deal struck Wednesday with the Arab League to stop nearly eight months of violence, underlined her skepticism about the amnesty offer.

“This would be about the fourth amnesty that they’ve offered since I took this job about five months ago,” she told reporters.

As many as 25 Syrian protesters have been killed by security forces on Friday as thousands took to the streets across the country to denounce what they said was a “conspiracy” between the Arab League and the regime in Damascus to circumvent demands for major political change.

Syrian local coordination committees urged Syrians to stage “sweeping protests” in all Syrian cities on Friday and to “continue the struggle until the fall of the regime.”

Syria breaking its commitments

The committees expressed doubts over the regime’s willingness to implement an Arab League plan for reforms, citing the death of 25 civilians by security forces on Thursday, a day after the Syrian government agreed to cease violence.

They said the Arab League initiative was only giving time for President Assad to kill more protesters.

France, meanwhile, said Friday that Syria was breaking its commitments to an Arab League peace plan by continuing a deadly crackdown on protesters and cast doubt on President Assad’s dedication to the deal.

“The continuing repression can only strengthen the international community's doubts about the Syrian regime’s sincerity to implement the Arab League peace plan,” the French foreign ministry’s deputy spokesman, Romain Nadal, told journalists, AFP reported.

“We understand that at least 20 peaceful protesters were killed by security forces yesterday in Syria,” he said.

“The continuing repression is completely contrary to the commitments given by the Syrian regime to the Arab League.”

Syria will deepen its international isolation

On Thursday, the United States said Syria will only deepen its international isolation if it fails to abide by a deal with the Arab League to stop killing protesters.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the 22-member league could be forced to toughen its position toward Damascus as countries like Russia and Turkey did after they gave Syria a chance to end the bloodshed.

And the signs are not encouraging, she said.

Nuland highlighted reports of more civilian deaths at the hands of Syrian troops a day after the Assad’s regime pledged to withdraw its forces from protest hubs under a deal with the Arab League.

“We have not seen any evidence that the Assad regime intends to live up to the commitments that it’s made,” Nuland said as she welcomed the league’s efforts to stop the bloodshed.

“We have no evidence to indicate that they’re withdrawing from anywhere at this stage.”

Arab League plan

Under the Arab League plan, the regime must also stop the violence, release detainees and immediately grant free and unfettered access to journalists and Arab League monitors.

Those terms are the standard by which “we will judge this, and we have not seen it yet,” Nuland said.

The spokeswoman dismissed suggestions that the Arab League, by dealing with the Assad regime, is giving Damascus more time to kill protesters in a crackdown that UN officials say has claimed more than 3,000 lives since mid-March.

“I would say that actually the opposite is true, that as the United States says, Assad needs to step aside, because he’s clearly made a choice here,” Nuland said.

In August, U.S. President Barack Obama and key European leaders called for Assad to step down and tightened sanctions on his regime after saying it had squandered chances to reform.

“We will predict that, if he (Assad) doesn’t meet his promises to the Arab League, the Arab League is going to feel that they had promises made, promises broken, and they’re going to have to react,” Nuland said.

“So from our perspective, what has happened through Assad’s own action is that the community of countries pressuring him, making their voices heard, is growing.”

She noted that other countries like Turkey and Russia have tightened their screws on Assad.

After initially taking a softer line, Turkey has announced plans to impose sanctions against the Assad regime, while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the Syrian leader for the first time last month to either accept political reform or bow to calls for his resignation.

But Russia has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening action against Syria.