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Syria says 2,000 forces killed so far

BEIRUT -- Syria said yesterday that more than 2,000 of its soldiers and security forces have been killed during a nine-month uprising, on the day an Arab League delegation prepared to post foreign monitors as part of a plan to end the crisis.

The Arab League delegates arrive in the midst of a new international uproar over activist reports that government troops killed more than 200 people in two days. Neighboring Turkey condemned President Bashar Assad over the "bloodbath." The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed as Syria has sought to put down the uprising.

In its first official comment on UN human rights reports alleging a brutal government crackdown, the Syrian government sent a letter to the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council yesterday saying more than 2,000 soldiers and members of the security forces have been killed. It offered no documentation to back up the claim.

In the letter, it said the UN reports were "politicized, unprofessional and selective" and ignored reports by the government detailing the violations being committed by terrorist groups in Syria.

UN officials have said their death toll includes Syrian military and security forces but complain that they are unable to verify the numbers because they are banned from entering Syria.

The Arab League monitors would be the first to be allowed into the country since the uprising began in March.

The opposition suspects Assad's agreement to allow the monitors in after weeks of stalling is only a tactic to buy time and ward off a new round of international sanctions and condemnation.

"The Syrian regime has exploited signing the Arab League initiative to escalate the brutal military campaign against revolting towns and cities," said Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council, Syria's main opposition group.

In a statement, Ghalioun called on the UN to "urgently intervene" to stop the bloodshed, saying the Arab peace initiative was no longer enough.

Activists called for nationwide protests today against the observer mission. "Protocol of death, a license to kill," was the slogan for the planned protests, a reference to the protocol of the Arab League plan signed by Syria this week.

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