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The rebel Free Syrian Army is suspending operations against regime forces during the mission of monitors deployed in Syria to implement an Arab League peace plan, its chief told AFP on Saturday.

“We have decided to stop all the operations, except those for self-defence,” dissident Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP in a telephone interview from his base in Turkey.

Asaad announced in July his defection in protest over the regime’s violent repression of a protest movement that erupted mid-March, and which has cost more than 5,000 lives, according to UN figures.

His forces, which he says comprise some 20,000 deserters and swelling, have claimed responsibility for several deadly operation against the regular army.

Asaad warned however that his men were ready to pick up arms against the Syrian regime forces at any moment, noting that “massacres are on the rise” in Syria.

“Resuming operations will depend on developments on the ground,” Asaad told AFP in Beirut. “Massacres are on the rise and we cannot stand it anymore.

“Before, 20 people used to be killed each day. Now it is 50,” he added.

He also accused the Syrian authorities of failing to implement the terms of the Arab League peace plan and pursuing the crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

“We can’t just sit back and watch,” he said.

A first team of 50 Arab League-mandated observers arrived Monday in Syria and have since visited several flashpoint cities and towns that have seen a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

There have been daily reports of bloodshed in Syria since the first monitors deployed, with at least 32 civilians killed on Friday, including 25 shot dead by security forces who opened fire on protests across the country.

Reuters

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