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Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least seven, a human rights activist said, after the Arab League’s chief warned of a “catastrophic” situation if violence isn’t halted.

The seven were killed in the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib and another five were wounded in Damascus during protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad following prayers for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone today.

More than 4,000 demonstrators have been slain in about eight months of protests against Assad’s rule, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The unrest was inspired by uprisings that toppled leaders in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt this year.

Assad has blamed the fighting on Islamic militants and foreign provocateurs, and has sent security forces to crush the demonstrations. The government on Nov. 2 agreed to an Arab League plan that calls for an end to all violence, the release of people held during protests and the clearing of cities and neighborhoods of “all military displays.”

“The failure of the Arabic solution would have catastrophic consequences for the situation in Syria and the region and that’s what the Arab League is trying to avoid in an attempt to save Syria’s security and stability,” Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi said, Egypt’s state-run Middle Eastern News Agency reported.

Armed groups in Syria killed 23 army soldiers yesterday, the official Syrian News Agency SANA reported, without saying when they were slain. Syrian army defectors killed 4 Syrian security personnel in Idlib, Al Jazeera said.

Released Detainees

The Syrian government released 553 detainees yesterday to mark Eid al-Adha, SANA reported. Syria’s Interior Ministry also gave “misled” citizens who carried, sold, financed or distributed weapons and hadn’t committed crimes a week to surrender in return for amnesty, SANA said.

They have until Nov. 12 to turn themselves in and hand their weapons to the nearest police station, SANA reported, citing a ministry statement. Those who turn themselves in “will be released soon and this will be considered as a general amnesty for them,” the news agency reported.

Burhan Ghalioun, the Paris-based leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, in a speech televised on Al Jazeera, urged the Syrian army “to follow their colleagues who abandoned their weapons.”

“There will be no excuse for any soldier saying that he was following military commands,” Ghalioun said. “Syrians would never forget those who backed their revolution against the tyrannical regime.”

Syria’s oil production has fallen to 280,000 barrels from 380,000 a day as a result of U.S. and European Union sanctions against the country, according to the Oil and Gas Journal, citing Syrian oil minister Sufian Allaw.

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