Chief army defector promises fight to free Syria

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Troops and army defectors clashed in the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said, reporting two civilians and nine soldiers killed in Idlib. It said a 14-year-old boy was killed when troops fired on a protest in the Damascus suburb of Daraya.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 22 people were killed Sunday in different parts of the country. The committees’ reports could not be independently confirmed.

More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria‘s crackdown, according to a U.N. count from January that has not been updated, and activists have reported dozens killed daily since.

The Russian and Chinese vetoes effectively killed an Arab League plan that called for Mr. Assad to hand over his powers to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government. The resolution would have expressed support for that Arab League plan, which Mr. Assad has rejected.

As an alternative, the U.S. proposal for a formal grouping of nations backing the opposition could be similar to the Contact Group on Libya, which oversaw international help for opponents of the late deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. In the case of Libya, the group also coordinated NATO military operations, something that is not envisioned in Syria.

U.S. officials said a friends group would work to enhance sanctions against Mr. Assad, bring Syrian opposition groups inside and outside the country together, provide humanitarian relief for embattled Syrian communities and monitor arms sales.

The main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, backed the idea.

Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent figure in the SNC, wrote on his Facebook page that friendly countries should form an “international coalition … whose aim will be to lead international moves to support the revolution through political and economic aid.”

A deeply sensitive question is whether such a coalition would back the Free Syrian Army. There appears to be deep hesitation among Western countries, fearing a further militarization of the conflict.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV on Saturday after the U.N. vote, the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, said a coalition might give the FSA support “if necessary” to “protect the Syrian people.”

Arab nations and other backers of the Security Council resolution expressed their anger and frustration at the double veto during an international security conference in the German city of Munich.

Qatar’s minister for international cooperation, Khaled al-Attiyah, said the vetoes sent “a very bad signal to Assad that there (is a) license to kill.”

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali urged other Arab nations to follow the step his country took Saturday and expel Syrian ambassadors and end recognition of Mr. Assad.

“The very least that we can do is to cut our relations to the Syrian regime,” Mr. Jebali said.

The Syrian government Sunday touted the U.N. results as a victory.

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