Syria - Reuters - 21.12.2011
Anti-government protesters attending the funeral of protesters killed in earlier clashes in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani December 21, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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A Syrian military operation in a stronghold of army deserters has killed a total of more than 250 people, activists and the opposition said Wednesday, ahead of an Arab League observer mission to monitor implementation of a peace plan.

France called the escalating violence an "unprecedented massacre" and urged Russia and China, Syria's traditional allies, to speed up negotiations on a draft resolution on Syria at the United Nations Security Council.

The opposition Syrian National Council, which groups some 140 leaders, called on the Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency meetings to discuss the Syrian crisis and urged the international community to act to stop the violence.

"Everything must be put in motion to end this murderous spiral into which (Syrian President) Bashar Assad is dragging his people, deeper each day," French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said.

Soldiers stormed a university campus in Syria's second largest city of Aleppo, which has been largely quiet, after students held a demonstration in support of the protesters in flashpoint cities like Homs, Idlib and Hama. Some 22 students were arrested.

Opposition members and activists said more than 250 people were killed over the last two days in Idlib, a stronghold of army deserters near the border with Turkey where the Syrian army is trying to stamp out protests and attacks on government targets.

Forty people died on Wednesday in Idlib and Homs, at least half of deserters, activists said.

"There must be an immediate cessation of acts of violence, and the Syrian government has to shoulder its responsibility for providing protection to the Syrian civilians in view of its commitments under an Arab plan," Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in a statement.

An Arab League delegation headed by Al-Arabi's deputy will arrive in Syria on Thursday for talks with Syrian officials on implementation of the peace deal, which Syria accepted the deal last week after weeks of footdragging.

It calls on Syria to allow in an Arab observer mission, pull troops from residential areas, and open dialogue with the opposition, which on Wednesday called on the international community to act to the bloodshed.

Syria security forces also arrested Abdul-Aziz al-Khair, a prominent member of the opposition Syrian National Coordination Committee when he tried to board a flight to Cairo, activists said.

Syrian state media reported that an explosive device exploded in car belonging to an army colonel in Homs and blamed the attack on "terrorists."

It is difficult to independently verify reports from Syria, where most foreign journalists are barred entry. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Russia and China, Syria's traditional allies, last week submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council, condemning both the and the demonstrators for the violence
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European countries rejected the draft resolution as being too soft on the al-Assad regime.