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In Syria, word of more defections

A dozen Syrian secret police have defected from an intelligence compound, activists said, in what appeared to be the first major desertion from a service that has been a pillar of President Bashar Assad's rule.

A gunfight broke out overnight on Saturday after the defectors fled the Air Force Intelligence complex in Idlib city, 175 miles northwest of Damascus. Ten people on both sides were killed or wounded, the activists said yesterday.

The defections came as the Arab League once again chided Syria for failing to sign on to a league-backed plan to end the violence in Syrian cities.

"We are very clear after the meeting yesterday . . . We give the Syrians one day, and I hope we will receive the answer from them. But until now I think there has been no answer from Syria," a diplomat said.

The Arab League had told Syrian authorities to sign an initiative to end the military crackdown on popular protests by yesterday, threatening financial and economic sanctions if it does not sign.

Damascus complains that its sovereignty would be compromised by the plan, which would require it to admit Arab monitors to ensure that Syria pulled troops out of cities.

In the Sunni district of Homs yesterday, several thousand people encircled the coffin of Khaled al-Sheikh, 19, a protester who residents said was killed in a random shooting by the army on the neighborhood this week. -- Reuters

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