BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syria agreed Monday to an Arab League plan to send foreign monitors, bowing to growing international pressure to end its bloody crackdown on a nine-month uprising. However, the opposition saw the deal as a stalling tactic, especially given reports by activists that more than 100 people were killed on the same day.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said an initial mission headed by one of his assistants would travel to Syria within a day or two to discuss plans for 500 observers to eventually deploy around the country. He said they would be in small groups of at least 10, and each team would go to a different location.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem rejected accusations that the regime was trying to stall, even though it delayed the monitoring agreement for weeks. "The signing of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation between us and the Arab League, and we will welcome the Arab League observers," he told reporters in Damascus.
Moallem said the observers would have a one-month mandate that could be extended by another month if both sides agree. The observers would be "free" in their movements and "under the protection of the Syrian government," he said. But they would not be allowed to visit sensitive military sites.
The Arab League plan calls for removing Syrian forces and heavy weapons from city streets, starting talks with opposition leaders and allowing human rights workers and journalists into the country, along with observers from member countries.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime accepted the monitors after Arab leaders warned that they would turn to the U.N. Security Council to try to end the crackdown that the United Nations says has killed at least 5,000 people since March. Pressure from Syria's longtime ally Russia clearly played a role in the decision to allow observers.
Moallem suggested that Damascus had agreed to sign on the advice of Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council. Two months ago, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria. But Moscow said last week that Syria was using disproportionate force against protesters and that Mosocw would draft the resolution.
The U.N. General Assembly on Monday condemned human rights violations by Assad's government, calling for an immediate end to violence and implementation of the Arab League plan "without further delay."
Violence has escalated in recent weeks in Syria with more frequent armed clashes between military defectors and security forces. The increasing militarization of the conflict has raised fears the country is sliding toward civil war.
Activists said security forces killed up to 70 army defectors Monday as they were deserting their military posts near the Turkish border. At least 30 other people died in violence across the country, activists said. If accurate, it would be one of the heaviest daily tolls of the nine-month revolt.
Security forces shot and killed at least 20 people in the southern province of Daraa, in central Syria's Homs region, and in the country's north. One person was killed when security forces opened fire on thousands of mourners in Damascus' central neighborhood of Midan. The mourners were attending the funeral of a child who was gunned down by security forces a day earlier.
Syria has placed severe restrictions on journalists, and reports by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not be independently confirmed. By signing onto the Arab League plan, the Syrian regime stands to gain more time and to avert, for now at least, the possibility of wider international involvement in the crisis. But critics are skeptical the regime will allow full, unrestricted access to trouble spots and said it was likely just a delaying tactic.