DAMASCUS, Syria – New violence broke out in southern Syria Monday, with at least 16 civilians and 19 troops reported killed in separate clashes while the government insisted the country would not be the next domino to fall in Middle East turmoil.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the civilians were killed by security forces at checkpoints across the flashpoint southern province of Daraa, where anti-government protests first erupted last March, AFP said.
It also said in a separate statement that at least 19 soldiers and members of the security forces were killed in clashes with suspected army defectors.
The violence came as Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned that the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria from membership was "a dangerous step" and accused the US of inciting the protests against President Bashar al Assad's regime.
Muallem said, "Syria is not Libya. The Libyan scenario will not be repeated. What is happening in Syria is different from what happened in Libya, and the Syrian people should not worry."
"I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down," he said in an interview with the BBC. "I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we're seeing."
Abdullah added, "If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life."
The unexpected Arab League vote Saturday saw 18 Arab countries decide to suspend Syria's membership from the 22-member body until Damascus pulls through with an earlier commitment to withdraw military from cities, release prisoners and allow Arab League monitors and members of the media in the country.
The European Union said the move "shows the increasing isolation of the Syrian regime," adding the bloc "stands ready to engage with representative members of the opposition... such as the Syrian National Council," AFP reported.
EU ministers also agreed to stop Syria accessing funds from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and blacklisted another 18 Syrians, bringing to 74 the number of members of Assad's inner circle hit by an EU assets freeze and travel ban.