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Syria: SNC snubs Arab League as violence continues


Syria's leading opposition group snubbed an Arab League invite to key talks on Monday, suggesting further divisions in the ranks of those opposed to President Bashar Assad's regime.

Meanwhile a watchdog said 23 Syrian soldiers were killed while dozens more were wounded as fierce clashes between regime forces and armed rebels continued.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) announced they would not take part in talks sponsored by the Arab League aimed at fixing deep divisions within the ranks of the opposition to President Assad.

"The SNC will not be going to the meeting in Cairo because it (the Arab League) has not invited the group as an official body but as individual members," Ahmed Ramadan told Reuters in Rome.

Another SNC member, Radwan Ziadeh, said the Arab League had failed to make good on a promise to involve the group which is now meeting in Rome to try to unite its ranks and decide its leadership in preparations for the talks.

Political jockeying within the SNC has prevented it from gaining full international endorsement. Executive members said they may choose a new president or restructure the council in a bid to garner broader support.

23 soldiers dead

Elsewhere the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 Syrian soldiers were killed as three troop carriers were destroyed in clashes that began at dawn on the outskirts of Rastan, a rebel-held city located in restive Homs province.

A lieutenant who had defected was also killed in the clashes.

Regime forces launched an offensive on the city at the weekend but have met with sharp resistance from rebels seeking the ouster of the regime of President Assad.

State media did not confirm the losses.

The deadly unrest comes despite a month-old ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan as part of a six-point plan aimed at ending the violence that has swept Syria since March last year when a popular revolt erupted against Assad's regime.

Part of the plan includes the deployment in flashpoint areas of around 300 UN military observers. By Sunday, 189 observers were on the ground, the UN mission in Syria said.

Despite the presence of the observers, more than 60 people were killed across Syria at the weekend in raids and shelling attacks by regime forces on rebel strongholds, and in clashes between soldiers and armed rebels, the Observatory said.

Syria-linked violence has also spilled across the border into Lebanon, with eight people killed since Saturday during sectarian clashes in the northern port city of Tripoli, according to officials.

Battles first erupted on Saturday between residents of two neighboring localities after security forces arrested a Sunni Islamist on suspicion he was linked to a terrorist organization.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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