Violence flares after Arab League suspends Syria

The governments of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey issued strong condemnations of President Bashar al-Assad's regime after his supporters attacked their embassies in the wake of the suspension.

Arab League foreign ministers on Saturday voted 18-22 to suspend Syria over its failure to comply with an agreement to end the crackdown on a nationwide protest movement calling for Assad's resignation.

It called for the withdrawal of Arab envoys from Damascus and agreed on sanctions while inviting "all currents in the Syrian opposition to meet at Arab League headquarters in three days to draw up a joint vision for the coming transitional period."

The move won widespread praise in the international community, and was hailed by the opposition Syrian National Council, which said it was ready to take part in proposed talks regarding a transitional period.

But Assad's government today called for an urgent Arab summit. "Syria demands an emergency Arab summit to address the crisis and its negative consequences in the Arab world," state television reported.

In central Damascus, tens of thousands of people turned out in support of Assad, waving Syrian flags and portraits of the embattled leader. "The people want Bashar al-Assad," yelled demonstrators gathered at Sebaa Bahrat Square, as state television broadcast footage of another massive rally in Omayad Square, also in the capital.

"The Syrian people are filling the squares of the nation and announce their rejection of the Arab League decision," state television said, showing more protests in the commercial hub of Aleppo and other cities.

On the ground, Syrian security forces pressed their crackdown on dissent, killing at least five people in the central cities of Homs and Hama, rights activists said, adding two soldiers were killed in an ambush.

"Security forces opened fire killing four people in Hama," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In Homs, snipers killed one person early in the morning, said the Observatory, which reported a similar incident in the same place the previous day.

Meanwhile, engineering students were injured by a "round of mortar" fire which hit their faculty building in Baath University, also in Homs, the same source added.
And two citizens, one in Homs and the other in Hama, died from gunshot wounds suffered the previous day.

Gunmen believed to be defectors ambushed and killed two soldiers patrolling town of Qusayr, near Homs, the Observatory said. In its statement, the opposition SNC said it "welcomes the decisions... considers them a step in the right direction, and a clear condemnation of the Syrian regime, which has persisted in its killing and destruction campaigns."

It stressed "readiness to participate in discussions regarding the transitional period" on the basis Assad departs and is replaced by a democratic government that excludes anyone "whose hands have been tainted with blood."

Today, the League said it was studying measures to protect Syrian civilians. "The Arab League is studying mechanisms it could implement to protect civilians in Syria," the League's secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, told reporters in the Libyan capital, without going into details.

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