Arab League to offer Assad ‘safe exit’ if he resigns quickly


The Arab League will offer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “a safe exit” if he resigns quickly and leaves the country, a senior Arab League official said, marking the latest attempt to get Syria’s longtime ruler to step down and end more than a year of daily bloodshed.

The official provided no further details because the source is not authorized to speak to the media.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani did not discuss an exit plan when speaking with reporters after the Sunday meeting, but confirmed “there is an agreement on the need for the swift resignation” of Assad.

“We call on the opposition and the Free Syrian Army to form a government of national unity,” Sheikh Hamad said.

Despite Arab League offer, the brutal violence didn’t let up.

At least 11 people were killed in early morning violence Monday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

In Homs, two people were killed “due to intense shelling by helicopters and rocket launchers, accompanied by intense clashes between the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and the regime army,” the group said.

The LCC reported fierce clashes continued for a second day in Aleppo, a critical city in the Syrian crisis. Aleppo, the largest city and commercial hub of Syria, is akin to New York in the United States.

Both Aleppo and the capital city of Damascus — longtime al-Assad strongholds — came under heavy fighting on Sunday, opposition activists said.

By the end of the day, 111 people had died across Syria, including 56 people in and around Damascus and three in Aleppo, the LCC said.

In a video posted online Sunday, the head of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo announced an operation “to liberate the city of Aleppo from the rule of the Assad thugs, whose hands were blood-stained by heinous crimes against our people.”

Brig. Gen. Abdel Jabbar Al-Obeidi also vowed to secure Aleppo and protect all minorities and sects, including the members of Alawite sect that the president belongs to.

If rebels eventually gain control of Aleppo, it would mark a pivotal point in the Syrian crisis and deal a heavy blow to al-Assad’s financial ties.

In Damascus, a mosque came under attack Sunday from rocket and helicopter shelling while worshippers were inside, the LCC said. The mosque caught fire and “many” were killed, the group said.

But the Syrian regime denied reports of helicopter attacks in Damascus, saying it was “life as usual” in most of the city, Syrian state-run TV reported Sunday.

The war of words continued late Sunday, when Syrian state television broadcast an “important” statement from the Information Ministry saying Western intelligence and “some Arab parties” are planning to hijack Syrian TV frequencies and deliver false news reports of a coup, defections or cities having fallen into rebel hands.

State-run TV said the stations “might use Syrian journalists under pressure after being kidnapped.”

CNN cannot independently confirm reports of violence because the government restricts access by foreign journalists.

The crisis started in March 2011, when a fierce government crackdown against protesters morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.

The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed since the crisis began more than 16 months ago. But Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the United Nations has not been giving out overall death toll numbers since December “because it became impossible to verify the numbers in any meaningful way.”

Opposition groups tracking deaths have issued higher tolls. The LCC, for example, estimates more than 16,000 people, mostly civilians, have died.

The Syrian regime has taken a hit with military defections. An official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said three brigadier generals from Syria arrived in Turkey last week and about two dozen Syrian generals have fled to Turkey.