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France and Turkey call for more pressure on Syria

 
 
 
 
 
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France has joined Turkey in calling for greater international efforts to exert pressure on Syria to stop its bloody crackdown on protesters, as at least 15 more people were reported killed Friday.

At the same time, Syria made its first response to a proposal by the Arab League to send a delegation of more than 500 military and civilian observers to the country, but critics said it appeared to be a stalling tactic.

The Arab League chief, Nabil al-Araby, said he received a letter from Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, asking him to amend the proposed plan. “These amendments are currently being studied,” al-Araby said.

On Nov. 2, Syria said it had agreed to an Arab League-brokered plan under which it would halt all violence and withdraw armed forces from civilian areas, but the bloodshed continued, prompting the league to vote last weekend to suspend Syria. The proposal to send observers effectively delayed the suspension, and the current back and forth appears to push it back further.

Activists said three people were shot in Irbin, a town on the outskirts of Damascus; two were shot in Homs and three in Hama, two of the most restive cities in central Syria. At least seven protesters were also killed in the southern city of Daraa, from where the uprising against President Bashar Assad broke out in mid-March.

On Friday, Syrian state television said three soldiers were killed and an officer was critically wounded in a bomb blast in Hama.

With the situation in the country deteriorating, foreign leaders are struggling for some kind of effective response.

France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, on a visit to Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, called the situation “no longer sustainable.”

Speaking at a news conference alongside his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, Juppe also called on the Syrian opposition “to avoid recourse to an armed insurrection,” saying, “A civil war would, of course, be a true catastrophe.” He was referring to the rise of attacks by Syrian army deserters, which include a pair of attacks this week on sites associated with the Syrian government.

Asked whether France would support military action by Turkey, including the entrance of forces to establish a kind of buffer zone as the opposition has proposed at various times, Juppe answered that any military action, no matter by whom, would have to be approved by the United Nations.

Such a development, however, would appear extremely unlikely for a host of reasons, culminating in the near-certainty of Security Council vetoes from Russia and China.

Eight months into the uprising, the Syrian opposition is too fractured and diffuse to offer a unified position on what the international community should do.

“The Arab League has offered us huge support, and we will never forget that,” said an activist named Ayman, 25, from Al Qaboun, a town on the northern outskirts of Damascus. “We believe that Arab states and Turkey are very close to figuring out how to help us.”

Some dissidents said the league’s latest offer to send monitors was too little, too late and that the government would find a way to foil their work.

Separately Friday, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called for “restraint and caution.” France’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, who had been meeting with Putin, said at the same news conference: “We consider that the situation is becoming more and more dramatic. Bashar al-Assad has stayed deaf to the calls of the international community and has not followed up reform promises, and the massacres are continuing. We think that it is indispensable to increase international pressure, and we have tabled a resolution at the United Nations. We hope it will find as wide support as possible.”

France, Britain and Germany plan to ask the human rights committee of the U.N. General Assembly to approve a resolution condemning violence against protesters.

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