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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to reforms, the head of the Arab League said after a meeting in Damascus Saturday, even as Mr. Assad's regime continues a brutal crackdown that has killed thousands.
Nabil al-Arabi, the head of the Arab League traveled to Damascus six months into a peaceful uprising that the Syrian government has met with force, sending tanks and troops into flashpoint cities and killing between 2,000 and 3,000 people so far, according to activists. Syrians have already rejected promises of reform once, and are demanding Assad’s ouster, not reform.
He said the agreement will be presented at a meeting of the Arab League, which is due to convene this week in Cairo. But the Financial Times reports that the Arab League proposal called for keeping Assad in place until 2014, a timeline that protesters have made clear they will not accept. It also reportedly called for legislative elections within six months and the formation of a transitional national unity government.
But the same day that the two met, Syrian security forces killed 18 people, reports Bloomberg. Activists say that 12 protesters were killed in Homs, a central region that has been a flashpoint for protests; three were killed in or near the capital Damascus; and three were killed in Idlib, a northern province, and Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began.
Protesters call for foreign intervention
At protests Friday, demonstrators called for international intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria, reports the Associated Press. “We want international protection!” shouted thousands across the country Friday, according to AP. But unlike Libya, most calls are for international observation missions and human rights monitors, not military intervention.
The calls show protesters have become desperate as the death toll climbs and Assad’s regime remains firmly in power. At least 11 protesters were killed by security forces Friday.
The official Syrian news agency SANA reports that Arabi “affirmed the Arab League's rejection of all forms of foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs and its desire to overcome this current stage” in his meeting with Assad.
How loyal is Syria's military?
The defection of military leaders is seen as key to turning the tide of the uprising against Assad. The Army is controlled by generals from the minority Alawite sect of Shiite Islam, to which Assad also belongs. Some lower-level troops have defected, but activists say some of them have disappeared.
The Guardian reports that eight soldiers were executed Friday for refusing to fire on protesters, according to activists. The killing reportedly took place in a military barracks in the Kesweh area of Damascus.
Arabi’s trip to Syria Saturday came after Damascus canceled a planned trip Wednesday. The move was seen as a response to Arabi’s reported meeting in Cairo with Haitham Al Maleh, a well-known Syrian rights activist and opposition leader outside Syria.