Clampdown in Syria Ahead of Arab League Observers' Arrival

UN: More than 5,000 killed since March; Turkey says Bashar Assad's regime turning country into a "bloodbath."

Syrian government forces Thursday cracked down on suspected deserter hubs, opposition activists said, hours before an Arab League observer team was to arrive in the country.

"Syrian security forces have been shelling areas in the province of Idlib since the early hours of the day," activists based in the area near the Syrian-Turkish border told dpa by phone. At least two civilians were killed in the shelling, the activists said. In the central province of Homs, Syrian security forces made random arrests, they said.

Syria - Reuters - December 21, 2011

Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Ministry has issued a statement strongly condemning the continued attacks against civilians in Syria despite an agreement with the Arab League to halt the bloodshed.

The Ministry said in a statement emailed early Thursday that President Bashar Assad's regime was turning the country into a "bloodbath." It said the violence is in stark contrast to the spirit of the agreement and is raising doubts about Syria's "true intentions."

The Ministry said no administration "can come out a winner from a struggle against its own people" and renewed a call on Damascus to immediately end the violence and take steps "in line with the demands of the people."

According to an Arab diplomat whose country will be represented in the Arab League mission, which will attempt to end violence in the country, the "initial group of observers will be accompanied by administrative and security staff."

"The team will meet with Syrian officials and work out a plan to implement it on the ground," the diplomat told DPA in Beirut.

He added that the main task of the Arab team, under a deal endorsed by Damascus, would be "monitoring the cessation of violence on all sides, and ensuring the release of detainees arrested in connection with the current crisis."

"It is in our interests to see this mission succeed, because it's task is to examine the situation on the ground, and it will realize that things are not black or white - they are much more complex," Jihad Makdisi, the spokesperson for the Syrian Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by local media on Thursday.

After weeks of stalling, the Syrian government on Monday signed the deal allowing Arab monitors into the country. More than 5,000 people have been killed in the violence since mid-March, according to the United Nations.