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U.S./World

Syrians bury 22 security members

| Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011

BEIRUT -- Syria buried 22 members of the armed forces on Saturday, including six elite pilots, as the government reinforced its message that the 8-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad is the work of terrorists and foreign agents, not patriotic Syrians seeking reform.

With no sign of violence abating, an Arab League committee agreed yesterday on a draft of recommended sanctions against Syria, including halting cooperation with the nation's central bank and stopping flights to the country. The 22-nation body will vote on the recommendations Sunday in Cairo.

If the Arab League were to go ahead with the move, it would be a huge blow for a regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end the bloody crackdown on the uprising against Assad's rule that the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people. The European Union and the United States have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.

"U.S. and European sanctions are one thing, but coming from the Arab brothers and sisters, it is psychologically and realistically much more damaging," said Nikolaos van Dam, a former diplomat and Middle East scholar.

Still, there is widely held skepticism the Arab sanctions would succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into putting an end to the violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country toward civil war.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. But there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad's forces -- a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

Activists said fierce clashes took place on Friday and yesterday between the Syrian military and army defectors, who have grown increasingly bold in attacking troops and security targets.

At least 13 civilians were killed yesterday, 12 of them in the flashpoint Homs province, activist groups said. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 soldiers were killed in overnight clashes with defectors in the country's east.

Also yesterday, an Egypt-based Syrian dissident alleged that his 25-year-old pregnant wife was abducted by Syrian intelligence agents in Cairo, then released and left unconscious on a street in the Egyptian capital. The Syrian Embassy in Egypt strongly denied the claim.

Thaer al-Nashef, a vociferous opponent of Assad's regime, said he received an anonymous text message saying the abduction was meant to teach him "not to insult your masters again."

An Egyptian police official confirmed al-Nashef had filed a kidnapping complaint but gave no details about the circumstances.

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