Arab League Calls for Dialogue in Syria

Posted October 17th, 2011 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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The Arab League says it will bring together Syria's government and opposition groups in an attempt to end the country's ongoing violence.

The league's secretary-general said the group plans to start the dialogue within 15 days. He spoke Sunday after an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani echoed the call for a national dialogue.

Deep divisions among the 22-member pan-Arab body prevented passage of a proposal from a bloc of six Gulf nations to suspend Syria's membership in the group.

The Arab League suspended the North African country of Libya earlier this year after Moammar Gadhafi began a bloody clampdown on anti-government protesters. The group later reinstated Libya under the country's new leadership.

Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states already have pulled their ambassadors from Damascus to protest the government's deadly crackdown on opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Also Sunday, Syrian activists say security forces in the east opened fire on mourners attending the funeral of an activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as government forces continued arrests near the capital, Damascus.

The Britain-based observatory said Sunday that government forces in the city of Deir el-Zour fired live bullets as about 7,000 mourners took to the streets for the funeral of Ziad al-Obeidi. The 42-year-old activist had been in hiding for two months. He was killed Saturday by security forces who had been hunting him.

Activists say government forces also carried out raids against dissent near Damascus. They say forces in Zabadani, 50 kilometers from the capital, set up roadblocks and searched door-to-door, arresting at least 25 people. Rights groups say security forces also arrested 19 people in the Damascus suburb of Dumeir.

The United Nations says the violence in Syria has killed more than 3,000 people since anti-government protests began earlier this year.

Syrian authorities have blamed much of the violence on gunmen or what they call terrorist groups.

On Saturday, President Assad appointed a 29-member committee to draft a new constitution. The move appears to be a step by Mr. Assad to address the growing international condemnation he has faced for the crackdown on dissent.