Rebel troops kill 27 as Syria uprising enters 10th month

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Army deserters killed at least 27 troops and security agents on Thursday in the third straight day of regime losses as Human Rights Watch said rebels had mutinied over orders to shoot civilians.

The clashes in Daraa province, where protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime first erupted in mid-March, came as the European parliament called on the embattled leader to step down.

Regime opponents also piled on the pressure, calling on Western nations to cut diplomatic ties with Syria and put pressure on its ally Russia, while a group of dissidents announced the creation of a new opposition grouping.

But Russia -- which along with China had blocked a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Assad in October -- surprised Western powers on Thursday by proposing a resolution of its own on the crisis.

Thursday's fighting broke out at dawn at checkpoints in three separate places in Daraa province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The clashes came after army defectors killed at least 15 loyalist troops over the past two days to avenge attacks on civilians.

Human Rights Watch issued a damning new report saying that half of the more than 60 rebel soldiers it interviewed said they had mutinied after receiving direct orders to fire on civilians.

HRW also named 74 military and intelligence officers "who allegedly ordered, authorised, or condoned widespread killings, torture and unlawful arrests" in the report titled: "By All Means Necessary."

"Defectors gave us names, ranks and positions of those who gave the orders to shoot and kill," said Anna Neistat, the watchdog's associate director for emergencies.

"Each and every official named in this report, up to the very highest levels of the Syrian government, should answer for their crimes against the Syrian people", Neistat said.

She urged the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

Amid continuing international concern over the crisis, Russia called for emergency Security Council talks and proposed a resolution strongly condemning violence by "all parties, including disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities," according to a copy obtained by AFP.

The draft also raises concern over "the illegal supply of weapons to the armed groups in Syria."

As a key Assad ally, Russia has tried to head off Security Council intervention in the crisis and, in October, vetoed a resolution condemning Assad's crackdown on protests.

French UN envoy Gerard Araud hailed the Russian proposal as an "extraordinary event," while other Western diplomats said the text was unbalanced but could be negotiated on.

"At the moment, from our point of view, it is unbalanced. We have no firm evidence of any arms trafficking," one Western diplomat told AFP .

France and Washington have pressed Moscow and Beijing for a change of heart and to join a UN vote against Damascus.

"More than 5,000 killed, three million Syrians are affected by bloody repression, unspeakable abuse and daily crimes against humanity," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday.

"Faced with this wild and murderous rampage, the international community must not remain silent."

Rights activist Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Observatory, echoed him saying "the international community is watching and doing nothing" as the lethal violence persists.

He urged Western nations to "withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus" and called on EU members to "put pressure on Russia to change its attitude towards Syria."

"Russia's support, that is the main problem," he said on the sidelines of an EU conference in Warsaw.

In Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding the end of the "brutal repression" in Syria and urging Assad to "quit power immediately."

In Istanbul, dissidents announced the creation of the Al-Leqaa opposition movement with the goal of toppling Assad's regime -- drawing praise from the Syrian National Council, which welcomed it as one of its components.

Meanwhile, the SNC prepared to hold a three-day congress in Tunisia from Friday, with its leader saying he expected the Security Council to adopt an Arab League blueprint for peace.

"I hope that before too long we will succeed in persuading the Security Council to adopt the Arab League plan and provide the international protection for civilians that we have been demanding," said Burhan Ghaliun.

Arab foreign ministers are to meet on Saturday to respond to Syria's proposal to admit observers in exchange for an end to the sweeping sanctions the 22-member bloc decided to impose on November 27.

Iraq is to send a delegation to Syria in its own initiative to end the bloodshed in its western neighbour, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told AFP.

"America and Europe are afraid of the phase after Bashar al-Assad. That is why they understand the (Iraqi) initiative."

Canada, meanwhile, said it was evacuating its nationals from Syria, with Foreign Minister John Baird citing the "deteriorating situation" in the country.

© 2011 AFP

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