Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Thousands Rally in Syria as Arab League Chief Warns of Civil War

January 13, 2012

VOA News

The chief of the Arab League warned Friday that Syria may be heading towards a civil war as thousands of Syrians took to the streets in support of an armed rebel group.

Arab League head Nabil Elaraby made the comments in interviews with The Associated Press and an Egyptian television station while anti-government protesters voiced support for the Free Syrian Army, composed mainly of former soldiers.

Activists say 20,000 gathered in the town of Ariha in the northwest Idlib province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says soldiers opened fire on protesters in the region, killing at least one person.

The 10-month crackdown on anti-government protests has turned more violent in recent months as defecting soldiers have taken up arms against the government.

Elaraby spoke after at least 11 members of the Arab League observer mission were injured by pro-Assad supporters earlier this week. Meanwhile, one observer quit the monitoring team, calling it a "farce," and activists say that 11 members are expected to quit the mission soon.

Foreign observers have been operating in Syria since December 26 to check President Bashar al-Assad's compliance with an Arab League plan to end his violent suppression of the uprising that began last year.

The United Nations and the United States say killings of protesters by Syrian security forces have intensified since the monitoring mission began. But on Friday Elaraby denied the charge in an interview with the Egyptian Al-Hayat television channel.

Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign minister said a Russian ship carrying "dangerous cargo" has arrived in Syria, after being temporarily held in Cyprus. Cypriot media reported on Wednesday that authorities had intercepted a vessel carrying ammunition from St. Petersburg in Russia to Syria during a fuel stop. Media reports said the ship was carrying up to 60 tons of ammunition and explosives.

The United Nations estimates at least 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising, many of them peaceful protesters attacked by Syrian security forces. Others have been killed in fighting between the Syrian military and the army defectors who have joined the rebellion in recent months.

Earlier this week, the first Western journalist was killed in Syria during a government-organized trip to Homs. Paris prosecutors said Friday that a preliminary investigation has been launched into the death of the France-2 Television journalist. Damascus has also said it will also investigate the death.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.



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