Syria is under pressure from its Arab neighbours to end months of bloodshed, after agreeing to a plan to pull its military out of cities, release political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition.

We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately, said Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani of Qatar, which leads an Arab League committee behind the plan agreed in Cairo on Wednesday.

President Bashar al-Assad has deployed his army and security forces to crush protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. He has said they are battling Islamist militants and armed gangs.

The United Nations says 3,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.

Syria's opposition have dismissed Assad's offer of dialogue as insincere. Outside the Arab League's Cairo headquarters on Wednesday a group of protesters called for Assad to step down.

The United States reiterated its call for the Syrian president to quit.

Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Qatar's Sheikh Hamad said Syria had agreed to a complete halt to violence, the release of prisoners, removing the military presence from cities and residential areas and allowing the Arab League and media access for reporting.

He told a news conference the League would continue contacts between the Syrian government and the opposition in preparation for a national dialogue within two weeks.

A League statement said: The Arab committee (overseeing the plan) is responsible for submitting periodic reports to the ministerial council of the Arab League on the progress of carrying out the plan.


Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview that the talks between the Syrian government and the opposition would be held in Cairo.

The regime is trying to buy time. Its calls for reform and dialogue are false and deceiving, the opposition council said on Wednesday. It wants the League to take steps that include suspending Syria's membership in the pan-Arab body and ensuring international protection for civilians.

The Arab League has stopped short of suspending Syria, and has shown no sign of backing international military action, as it did against Muammar Gaddafi's Libya.

Syrian activists said on Wednesday that security forces shot dead at least 11 villagers at a roadblock near Homs.

A YouTube video distributed by anti-Assad activists purportedly showed several bodies, gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs. Another five were killed in Homs. All 11 were Sunnis, who form the majority of Syria's population.

Their killing follows reports by an activist in Homs, and on social network pages of Assad supporters, that nine members of the president's minority Alawite sect had been dragged from a bus and killed by gunmen near Homs on Tuesday.

Syrian state television showed tens of thousands of people rallying in Syria's eastern city of Raqqa, in the latest in a series of state-organised rallies designed to show Assad enjoys popular support nationwide. Similar demonstrations have taken place in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia and Deir al-Zor.

With tight Syrian media restrictions in place, it is hard to verify accounts of violence or gauge the real levels of popular support for Assad or those demanding his removal.

(Additional reporting Marwa Awad in Cairo, Dominic Evans and Erika Solomon in Beirut and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)