Cairo: Syria signed a protocol on Monday to allow in monitors, part of an Arab peace plan that aims to end a nine-month crackdown on protests against President Bashar Al Assad's rule.
A Reuters witness said he saw Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad sign the protocol at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo and a League diplomat confirmed it had been inked.
If they don't sign we will take the matter to the Security Council to adopt all the resolutions which have been taken by the Arab League
Syria's Foreign Minister says Damascus has signed an Arab League agreement allowing Arab observers into the country.
Speaking in Damascus, Walid Al Muallem says the agreement was signed "a while ago" in Cairo. He says the deal was signed after the Arab League accepted amendments demanded by Syria.
An Arab League official in Cairo confirmed the deal was signed Monday by Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad.
Syria stalled for weeks over signing the protocol on monitors, although it had agreed to other parts of the plan. The League suspended Syria from the pan-Arab body and announced sanctions against Damascus.
Six civilians killed Monday
Nicosia: The news the observer deal had been signed came amid reports that Syrian security forces shot dead at least six civilians Monday.
Near oil hub Deir Ezzor in the east, three civilians were killed and dozens wounded when security forces peppered the town of Al-Quriyeh with fire from heavy machineguns, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The civilians died during clashes between soldiers and military mutineers, the British group said, adding: "The deserters were able to take a vehicle belonging to the military."
In the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against the regime erupted in mid-March, a young man was killed in a village west of Daraa city by gunfire from security forces, the Observatory said.
It added that two more civilians were killed in Herak, eight were wounded - some critically - and dozens of people were arrested when security forces swooped on the town on Monday morning.
General strike, protesting, continues
The Observatory added that a general strike also continued "in most towns and villages" across Daraa for the ninth consecutive day.
It also said that "tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through (the central Damascus quarter) of Midan on Monday in protest at the death of a girl," Hala Munajed, who was shot dead on Sunday.
According to the Local Coordination Committees, which organise protests on the ground, the 13-year-old was hit in the back by a bullet when security forces opened fire on a rally staged by students.
Rights activists said that at least 15 civilians and six soldiers were killed across the country on Sunday as clashes raged between regular forces and deserters.
Gulf Arab leaders holding a summit on Monday in Saudi Arabia were hoping that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad would finally sign an Arab League peace deal aimed at ending his crackdown on protests and averting a civil war.
The crisis in Syria and a dispute with Iran were likely high on the agenda of their meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh, their first summit since Arab uprisings transformed the Middle East this year.
After six weeks of Syrian stalling, Qatar said it had information Al Assad would sign the plan, which calls for withdrawing the army from towns that have turned against him, freeing thousands of political prisoners, starting dialogue with the opposition and letting monitors into the country.
"We have information that indicates that he will sign the initiative. If this is true or not true we'll see," Qatari Foreign Minister Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani said in Riyadh, in remarks carried by Al Arabiya Television.
"If they don't sign we will take the matter to the Security Council to adopt all the resolutions which have been taken by the Arab League," Shaikh Hamad told reporters. Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah said: "We are optimistic that Syria will join the Arab League in signing the protocol, which is ready now, within 24 hours." "That is what we hope for. If not, the Arab League foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday to consider measures that might be taken in the future," he said in Riyadh on Sunday afternoon.
The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and announced sanctions over Assad's refusal so far to sign up to its peace plan. Arab ministers are set to meet later this week and could decide to submit their plan to the UN Security Council, making it a potential basis for wider international action.
Rising tensions across the Gulf
The two-day Gulf meeting comes a week after Iran's Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi held talks in Riyadh to try to calm rising tensions across the Gulf. Bahrain, the Gulf nation worst hit by protests this year, has accused Iran of backing a revolt among its Shi'ite Muslim majority that called for democratic change, while Saudi Arabia has accused Tehran of plotting to assassinate its ambassador in the United States.
The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) opposed the popular protests that ousted the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, but they helped negotiate a power transition in Yemen and backed measures against both Syria and Libya for their violent reaction to unrest. Of the GCC members, only Bahrain and Oman suffered major protests.
Saudi Arabia, the largest GCC country by size and population, distributed $110 billion in social benefits that helped it ward off protests except among its Shi'ite minority. The turmoil that hit the Middle East in 2011 also heightened oil prices, raising revenues for most Gulf states.
The GCC agreed an aid package for both Oman and Bahrain following the spring's demonstrations but the money has not yet been paid. "This is still being reviewed to put the mechanism in place," Omani Finance Minister Darwish Al Balushi said. "It doesn't form part of our 2012 budget at this time."
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al Qirbi is also attending the summit and said on Sunday he hoped to secure development aid from the impoverished state's Gulf neighbours.