Five civilians were killed in Syria and a brigadier was assassinated on Monday in violence that has not abated despite an Arab peace plan monitored by Arab League observers.

Arab League foreign ministers will meet on Sunday to discuss the future of the mission sent last month to check if Syria is abiding by the Arab plan it accepted on November 2.

The plan required Syria to halt the bloodshed, withdraw the military from cities, free detainees and hold a dialogue.

Hundreds of people have been reported killed in Syria even since the monitors deployed on December 26 as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad try to crush peaceful protests that began 10 months ago, as well as armed resistance to his rule.

Random gunfire from pro-Assad militiamen killed five people, including a woman, and wounded nine in the restive city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The state news agency SANA said an armed terrorist group had shot dead Brigadier-General Mohammed Abdul-Hamid al-Awad and wounded his driver in the countryside near Damascus.

The latest violence erupted a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Assad to stop killing your people.

Assad's harsh response to the uprising has killed more than 5,000 people, by a U.N. count. The Syrian authorities say 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed. The deaths of 32 civilians and soldiers were reported on Sunday.


Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence, stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end, Ban told a conference in Lebanon on Sunday.

The head of the Arab monitoring mission is due to report to an Arab League committee on Thursday, ahead of a wider meeting of Arab foreign ministers to consider their next step on Syria.

Qatar, which heads the League committee on Syria, has suggested Arab troops step in to stop the killing, an idea which is anathema to Damascus and which several Arab countries, including Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria, are likely to oppose.

An Arab representative to the Cairo-based League said it had received no formal proposal for such military intervention.

The League also has the option of referring Syria to the U.N. Security Council, which has so far failed to take any action due to opposition from Russia and China to any resolution that could lead to U.N. sanctions or Western military action.

There is little Western appetite for any Libya-style intervention. The United States, the European Union, Turkey and the Arab League have announced economic sanctions against Syria.

Assad proclaimed an amnesty on Sunday for crimes committed during the uprising and some detainees were later freed in the presence of Arab monitors in Damascus.

Kinan al-Shami, of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union, said hundreds of detainees appeared to have been released, but they represented only a fraction of at least 40,000 people he said had been jailed without charge since March, many of whom have been held in secret police buildings or makeshift prisons.

Among those freed, Shami said, was Syrian actor Jalal al-Tawil who was shot and captured while trying to flee to Jordan two weeks ago. He had earlier been beaten in a Damascus protest.

Assad has issued several amnesties in recent months, but opposition groups say thousands of people remain behind bars and many have been tortured or abused, with some killed in custody.

The movement to end more than four decades of Assad family rule began with largely peaceful demonstrations, but after months of violence by the security forces, army deserters and insurgents started to fight back, prompting fears of civil war.

Assad, who retains the support of core military units, is backed by his own Alawite minority as well as some minority Christians and some majority Sunni Muslims who fear chaos, civil war and the rise of Islamist militancy if he is toppled.

The president, 46, who appeared in public twice in as many days last week, is eager to show that his people love him.

SANA, the state news agency, reported on Sunday that a 10 km (six mile) long letter, which it billed as the world's longest, was being written and signed by Syrians across the country as a message of loyalty to the homeland and its leader.

(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Dominic Evans and Erika Solomon in Beirut)