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20 Syrian Protesters Killed, Arab League Deadline Passes Without Response

November 25, 2011

Some 20 killed in 24 hours across Syria

DAMASCUS, Nov. 25, 2011 (Xinhua) --

Some 20 people were killed in the past 24 hours across Syria, including law-enforcement members, gunmen and a civilian, the official SANA news agency reported Friday.

Two law-enforcement members were killed Friday when a mine planted by armed groups blasted in central Hama province, SANA reported, adding that another sergeant was killed in southern Daraa province when a group of gunmen opened fire at a vehicle that was ferrying food to the law members.

In central Homs province, specialized forces conducted a qualitative operation on Thursday in the al-Rastan area, during which 16 gunmen were killed and dozens arrested, SANA said. The operation also led to the confiscation of large quantities of arms and ammunition, including diverse Israeli-made weapons, mines and mortar shells, the report said.

Meanwhile, SANA said that three explosive devices went off on Friday in several neighborhoods in Hama, but no injuries were reported. It reported that explosives experts managed to dismantle four devices that were set to go off in several crowded areas in Daraa.

In northern Idlib province, a roadside bomb exploded at Taftanas town on Thursday, killing a 13-year-old boy who was herding sheep, according to SANA.

On the opposition side, the Local Coordination Committees, an activists' network, said that as many as 26 people, including two kids, were killed Friday across Syria, as anti-government protesters rallied under the title "the Free Syrian Army Protects Us."

The so-called Syrian Free Army, which is composed of army defectors, has attacked many army bases over the past weeks. Their recent assault targeted a bus carrying elite army pilots on Thursday, which led to the killing of 10 officers.

The Syrian Army said in a statement on Friday that the attack on the pilots was considered a dangerous terrorist escalation, " which unveiled the scheme that aims to weaken and target our army forces."

"We affirm the involvement of foreign parties with the aim of weakening the fighting ability of the army," said the statement.

The beneficiaries are the enemies of Syria such as Israel, it said, stressing the army's full readiness to carry on with its mission to protect the citizens' lives.

Currently, there are mounting cries among Syrians, even from anti-government activists, to halt all kinds of violent acts whether they are against government's targets or not, as armed resistance, which the Syrian government has claimed to be fighting to justify its crackdown on protesters and which has been dismissed by many other countries, has practically become true.

Life getting hard in Syria as Western sanctions start to bite

DAMASCUS, Nov. 25, 2011 (Xinhua) --

There have been repetitive placatory statements made by senior Syrian officials over the past couple of weeks that the cooking gas crisis would end within few days in the country.

However, the crisis is still unsolvable and has even sent signals that the consequences of the European and American sanctions have started to rebound on the ordinary Syrians not the Syrian President and his inner circle as they have primarily meant to.

Syrians, who had endured several economic slumps in the past, have started to get used to social and economic boom in the country that has begun to take shape throughout the last ten years with the gradual transformation of the Syrian economy from its socialist system to that of an open market.

The looming economic crisis would be the biggest challenge for most Syrians after an era of affluence where consumer and luxurious goods were abundant.

A decade ago, it was not strange to see the Syrians line up and carry buckets of different colors in front of a gas distribution center. But such a scene had almost become non-existent over the past few years.

This unpleasant scene has returned to the country recently and Syrians have started feeling the heat of the EU and US sanctions imposed on the country allegedly for the government's bloody crackdown on protesters who took to streets more than eight months ago demanding reforms and later on calling for the toppling of the Syrian regime.

Syrians complain, especially in Damascus suburbs, of the shortage in diesel, which is indispensable for heating in winter, and the cooking gas.

While standing in the long line to have his buckets refilled with diesel, Hamad Marouf, 46, of Sehnaya area, just outside Damascus, told Xinhua that waiting in line to get diesel has become one of his worst nightmares.

Abu Ali, 65, with big mustache, was standing with seven buckets by his side. He told Xinhua that he has seven houses and that he needs bucket to each house.

At another area in the capital Damascus, a young teenager was sarcastic when Xinhua reporters asked him to lead them to the gas distribution center. "You came late ... if you want a gas cylinder you need to come at 6 a.m. to get a turn because people line up from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. to get one," he said.

Some Syrian officials insist that the shortage in the cooking gas was to be blamed on some greedy distributors of gas cylinders, who hide them to raise prices and capitalize on the crisis.

Last week, Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allaw stressed that the gas crisis in Syria would end within four days, blaming the recent shortage in gas cylinders that is essential for cooking on threats by armed groups to attack freight trains that transfer gas from the northwestern coastal town of Banias to the gas filling station in the Damascus suburb of Adra.

Allaw, speaking in an interview broadcasted by the Syrian TV, confirmed that two freight trains carrying gas arrived in Adra over the past two days to meet gas needs in Damascus, its suburbs and Quneitra, some 67 km south of Damascus.

He said the Banias train ensures 80 percent of gas needs in Damascus.

The minister pointed out that threats of assaulting trains have led to the suspension of train trips from the north to Damascus since two weeks ago, triggering off a decline in the daily output from 65,000 to 40,000 gas cylinders.

Allaw said the ministry has raised the ceiling of daily production to its maximum level to reach between 63000 and 65000 gas cylinders.

On Tuesday, the cabinet convened to discuss the shortage in diesel and to seek "radical solutions" to the crisis, according to Syria's official news agency. A number of solutions were recommended but none has been put into force so far.

Few months ago, the government has, in response to pressing popular demands, lowered the diesel prices from 25 Syrian pounds per litter to 15 pounds, pushing up the consumption of this item and triggering off its smuggling to neighboring countries.

In September, the EU imposed an embargo on crude oil imports from Syria and banned EU firms from new investment in its oil industry.

Syria produces about 350,000 barrels of oil per day as well as 13.5 cubic meters of natural gas. Its daily consumption is much higher than this figure and it used to meet the shortage via importing gas from Egypt.

Syrian economy minister Mohamad Nedal Alchaar told the press recently that the country was going through "the worst crisis in the recent history of Syria."

It's still likely that the crisis would further aggravate when fellow Arab countries fulfill their threats and impose sanctions on Syria for its alleged failure to implement a recent plan recommended by the Arab League to end the eight-month-old crisis in the country.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

AL deadline to Syria passes with no response as pro-Assad supporters rally again

DAMASCUS, Nov. 25, 2011 (Xinhua) --

The deadline give by the Arab League (AL) to Syria to allow observers into its territory or face sanctions is over with no response from the Syrian side, while thousands of Syrians took to the streets on Friday in several provinces, shouting support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and voicing wrath toward the AL stance.

The ultimatum, issued at the end of a crisis meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, said that if Damascus refuses to allow Arab monitors to assess progress of an AL plan aimed at ending the eight-month bloodshed, the pan-Arab body would consider imposing sanctions on Saturday.

Sanctions would include halting Arab dealings with the country' s central bank, freezing the government's bank accounts as well as cancelling flights to the Middle Eastern nation.

AL officials would also decide to cease commercial trade with the Syrian government "with the exception of basic goods so as not to affect the Syrian people."

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Friday that today is the last chance for Syria to sign the protocol proposed by the AL.

"I hope that Syria takes necessary steps in this direction," said Davutoglu at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh after their tete-a-tete meeting in Istanbul.

Last week, the AL rejected Syria's proposed modifications on the mission of a 500-member observers to visit the country, saying that the proposals introduce "drastic changes" to the mission of the observers.

The Syrian proposals changed the nature of the mission's task that aims to solve the Syrian crisis and protect civilians, the AL said in a statement.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused shortly after the AL rejection that the regional body of being used as a tool to take the Syrian crisis to the UN Security Council.

Shortly before the 1100 GMT deadline given to Syria to allow in observers or face sanctions, thousands of Syrians thronged to streets and main squares in several cities to express rejection and anger over the AL stances, according to Syria's official media.

Syria's official SANA news agency said rallies erupted Friday in coastal Latakia, Tartous, Banias and northern Qamishly provinces and that crowds of people who slam the AL ultimatum are streaming into Sabaa Bahrat square in the capital Damascus.

SANA said the Syrians consider the AL "as a tool of foreign interference" which serves a Western agenda to foment trouble in the region.

However, the Doha-based al-Jazeera TV, which the Syrian government accuses of falsifying the events in Syria, cited witnesses as saying that anti-regime protests erupted in several areas echoing support to the Syrian Free Army (SFA), a group of army defectors with Turkey-based leadership.

On Friday, the SFA claimed responsibility for the killing of seven army pilots who were ambushed near the violence-slammed province of Homs.

Syria has been accusing armed groups of bloody assaults against civilians and army personnel that claimed the lives of 3,500 people so far.

The Syrian opposition has called for foreign intervention in Syria and refused to embark on a dialogue with the regime, a move that emboldened the armed insurrection against government forces in several Syrian cities.

Furthermore, members of the opposition Syrian National Council have been roaming across Europe soliciting international recognition of their council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and urge their western backers, including Turkey, to impose a buffer zone across the Turkish-Syrian borders.

In anticipation of such a zone, the Syrian army has finished a deployment along northern borders with Turkey at a depth of 20 km in an operation titled "Break the illusion," according to the Lebanese al-Manar TV that cited "unofficial sources" as saying.

After a meeting with Burhan Ghalioun, the Paris-based leader of Syrian National Council, on Wednesday, France, an outspoken critic of Assad's regime, became the first country to openly back international intervention in Syria in the form of humanitarian corridors.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested that a "secured zone" may be feasible to protect civilians and ferry in humanitarian aid. He described the broad-based Syrian National Council as "the legitimate partner with which we want to work."

Russia, a key supporter of Damascus, reaffirmed Friday its rejection to foreign intervention in Syria and the policy of sanctions.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Friday that the situation in Syria needs a national dialogue rather than sanctions.

Lukashevich stressed that it is up to the Syrians to decide their fate without foreign mandates.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

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