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League demands end to bloodshed

The Arab League has demanded that the Syrian government immediately stop all violence and allow more monitors in, as activists reported at least 10 more civilians, including two teenagers, were killed by regime forces.

Fierce clashes in the south between government troops and military defectors left 11 soldiers dead, activists said. The Arab League also called on other armed parties to halt all bloodshed, an apparent reference to the defectors.

Qatari foreign minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani said the ministers did not agree to call for UN experts to join the observers' mission in Syria, but said UN experts will train the monitors in Cairo before they leave. Even had they called for the UN experts to go in, Syria's regime may well have blocked them.

The success of the mission, said Mr Al Thani, who heads the committee, "depends on the government of Syria, and that means stopping the killings, withdrawing troops from the cities, and allowing journalists to work and enter Syria".

The ministerial committee called on "the Syrian government and various armed groups to immediately halt all forms of violence and to return to protesting peacefully for the success of the Arab League observers' mission in Syria".

At the meeting, the head of the observers issued his first report on the mission, sharing photos, maps and initial findings.

The five foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League, who met in Cairo, said the 165 Arab League monitors now on the ground need greater independence from President Bashar Assad's regime.

The monitors are supposed to be ensuring Syrian compliance with a plan to end the government's crackdown on dissent. The Arab League plan calls on Syria to remove heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from all cities, free all political prisoners and allow in human rights organisations and foreign journalists. Syria agreed to the plan on December 19.

Opposition activists say around 450 people have been killed by Mr Assad's regime since observers began work in Syria nearly two weeks ago.

The government says that the turmoil in Syria is not an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.

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