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Syrian military clashes with army defectors near Damascus, leaving at least 9 dead
BEIRUT (AP) ' Fresh clashes erupted Sunday between the Syrian military and groups of army defectors in suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus, killing at least nine people, activists and state media said.
Government forces dispatched more tanks and armored vehicles to reinforce troops in the restive area early Sunday, a day after it witnessed some of the most intense fighting yet so close to the capital as President Bashar Assad's regime tries to uproot protesters and dissident soldiers who have joined the opposition.
The ten-month uprising against Assad has become increasingly militarized recently as more frustrated protesters and army defectors arm themselves against the regime. A spike in violence since Thursday has killed nearly 100 people.
On Sunday, activists said three people including a 16-year-old died in fierce fighting in the suburb of Kfar Batna. There was heavy shelling there and in the nearby suburbs of Saqba and Arbeen, they said.
Syria's state-run news agency, meanwhile, said "terrorists" detonated a roadside bomb by remote control near a bus carrying soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya, killing six soldiers and wounding six others.
Among those killed in the attack some 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of the capital were two first lieutenants, SANA said.
The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence, which according to the United Nations has killed at least 5,400 people as Assad seeks to crush persistent protests demanding an end to his rule.
The U.N. is holding talks on a new resolution on Syria and next week will discuss an Arab League peace plan aimed at ending the crisis. But the initiatives face two major obstacles: Damascus' rejection of the Arab plan, which it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia's willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told reporters in Egypt on Sunday that contacts were under way with China and Russia. "I hope that their stand will be adjusted in line with the final drafting of the draft resolution," he said.
Elaraby spoke to reporters at Cairo airport before leaving for New York with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim. The two will seek U.N. support for the latest Arab plan to end Syria's crisis. The plans calls for a two-month transition to a unity government, with Assad giving his vice president full powers to work with the proposed government.
The Arab League announced Saturday it was halting the observers' work in Syria immediately because of the increasing violence, until the League's council can meet to decide the mission's fate.