Bashar al-Assad visited the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs on 27 March. (Photo Sana)
Arab leaders urged dialogue and an end to Syria's bloody crackdown at a summit in Baghdad on Thursday.
A resolution approved by the leaders called on the "Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the envoy (Kofi Annan) by starting serious national dialogue."
It also called on the Syrian opposition "to unify its ranks and prepare ... to enter into serious dialogue" with the regime, while also saying that "the Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing." It said "the massacre committed by the Syrian military and security forces against civilians in Baba Amr... can be considered crimes (against) humanity," referring to a district of the flashpoint city of Homs in central Syria.
The summit was marked by differences in the Arab League about how to handle the Syrian conflict. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and for rebels opposing his regime to be supplied with weapons. Others, including Iraq, have been pushing for a political reconciliation. Gulf states, apart from Kuwait, largely snubbed the summit, with Riyadh and Doha only sending envoys to the first Arab meet to be held in the Iraqi capital in more than 20 years.
Nine visiting leaders attended the summit of the 22-member Arab League, along with UN chief Ban Ki-moon. Syria, which has been suspended from the pan-Arab body, was not invited.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's remarks at the summit highlighted the split in the Arab League.
"Based on our experience in Iraq, the option to arm either side of the conflict will lead to a regional and international proxy war in Syria," Maliki warned in his speech to Arab leaders, adding that "this option will prepare the ground for foreign military intervention in Syria."
Iraq deployed 100,000 security forces in an effort to prevent attacks on the summit, and officials closed down swathes of roads and mobile networks and shut down the country's airspace. Despite the security measures a mortar round struck near the Iranian embassy on the outskirts of the heavily-fortified Green Zone where the summit was held.
Meanwhile in Syria President Bashar Assad said he will spare no effort to make U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan a success, but he demanded that armed opponents halt the violence. However, the same day there were a few particularly bold attacks. In Aleppo gunmen fatally shot two army colonels in the downtown Bab al-Hadid traffic circle in broad daylight. In eastern Ghouta, a suburb a few kilometers (miles) from Damascus, gunmen kidnapped pilot Mohammad Omar al-Dirbas, a brigadier, while on his way to work, SANA said. Also Thursday, rebels ambushed an army truck and killed two soldiers in the central province of Hama. Fresh clashes also broke out between government troops and army defectors in the north and south.
Assad, in his comments Thursday, accused regional countries of funding and arming "terrorists" in Syria and cited the assassinations as proof that they did not want a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least five civilians were killed in army raids on rebellious villages in Idlib province along Syria's northern border with Turkey. The activist group also reported clashes in the southern town of Dael.