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Syria ready to let monitors stay, rebel commander calls for help from UN

Damascus opposes broadening the scope of the Arab League observer mission, the source at the League said, but would accept a one-month extension of its mandate which expires on Thursday.

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Syria would agree to an increase in the number of monitors, he said, but would not allow them to be given formal fact-finding duties or be allowed into "military zones" that are not included in the existing Arab peace plan.

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Any change in the scope of the mission, whether to militarise it or let it investigate human rights abuses and potentially assign blame, would require a new agreement with Syria, the source said.

Qatar has proposed sending in Arab troops, a bold idea for the often sluggish League and one likely to be resisted by Arab rulers close to Assad and those worried about unrest at home.

Syria's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it was "astonished" at Qatar's suggestion, which it "absolutely rejected".

AN OLD ALLY

The League could ask the U.N. Security Council to act, but until now opposition from Russia andChina has prevented the world body from even criticising Syria, an old ally of Moscow.

Western diplomats said a Russian draft resolution handed to the council on Monday did not make clear if Moscow would accept tough language demanded by the West.

French Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal described Moscow's latest draft as disappointing, saying Paris had proposed constructive amendments to the Russian text.

"After a month of silence a new text has just been submitted by Russia, which still falls far short of responding to the reality in Syria," he said. "We've been saying this for months now: the Security Council's silence is scandalous."

Few Western powers favour any Libyan-style military action in Syria, which lies in the heart of the conflict-prone Middle East. Bordering Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel, it is allied to Iran and the armed Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group.

Iran condemned what it called foreign interference in the affairs of its closest Arab ally, Syria, and praised reforms President Assad has promised as "problem-solving".

"We are fundamentally against interfering in the affairs of other countries. We think it does not solve the problems but will only make them more complicated," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.

Assad, while offering reform, has vowed to crush his opponents with an "iron fist", but Syrians braving bullets and torture chambers appear equally determined to add him to the list of the past year's toppled Arab leaders.

Army deserters and other rebels have taken up arms against security forces dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, pushing Sunni Muslim-majority Syria closer to civil war.

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