Syria Homs - Reuters - 4.11.2011
A protester facings riot police at Khalidia, near Homs, Syria, November 4, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Syria's opposition warned of a "massacre" by government troops in the dissident central Homs province, as the death toll in the crackdown on protesters around the country climbed to 36 on Friday.

Eighteen of the deaths occurred in Homs and included three children and a woman, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported.

The others were killed when security forces fired on anti-government demonstrations in the provinces of Hama, Idlib and Daraa, said activists.

Amid the violence, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Damascus was discussing a response it had received from the Arab League to its request for lifting sanctions as a pre-condition for allowing observers to enter the country to end the bloodbath.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi on Thursday had asked Iraq to persuade Syria to allow observers on its soil as part of efforts to end the unrest.

Syria said last week it would allow observers into the country if all the Arab League's sanctions are made "null and void." Last week, the Arab League froze assets of 19 top Syrian officials and banned them from traveling to Arab states.

A Beirut-based Arab diplomat said an Arab League ministerial team is due to hold talks on Saturday in Qatar to discuss the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, activists based in northern Lebanon told DPA that at least four wounded Syrian protesters from the province of Homs arrived in an area inside Lebanon, through an illegal crossing.

Thousands of Syrians have fled the violence which started in mid-March, to areas in northern Lebanon which are adjacent to the Syrian border.

Friday's protests were part of a civil disobedience campaign called by the opposition against President Bashar Assad.

Omar Homsi, an activist based in Homs, told DPA by phone that at least two boys, aged 15 to 16, were arrested Friday by the security forces in a crackdown on the province.
"The boys were seen dragged by the security forces, bundled inside a car trunk and taken to an unknown destination," he added.

Homsi told DPA that thousands of government forces had encircled Homs to launch what may be a final assault to crush dissent in the province, known as the "capital of the Syrian revolution."

He said government troops were also reinforcing their positions near the border with Turkey and making house-to-house searches for suspected army defectors in Idlib.

The Syrian National Council, which groups Syrian opposition leaders, said Friday "the regime is preparing to commit a massacre to quell the revolution in Homs."

Homs, which has a population of about 1.6 million, has been the target of frequent crackdowns by the government forces since a pro-democracy uprising started mid-March.

The continued security crackdown by the government on Friday prompted United Nations officials and humanitarian organizations to renew their call to be allowed into Syria.

"I repeat my call to the Syrian government to really let us in," said UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Valerie Amos.

Foreign media and humanitarian groups are barred from entering Syria except by a government invitation.

Since the uprising started against Assad's regime, more than 4,000 people have been killed and over 14,000 have been arrested, according to UN estimates.

In an interview with the American network ABC television earlier this week, Assad dismissed the UN estimates of the death toll.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon hit back Friday at Assad's attacks and said "all the credible information is that more than 4,000 people have been killed by the government forces. The high commissioner for human rights has made it already clear through all the various sources, very credible sources," Ban said during a trip to Kenya.