By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - - Syria's underground opposition appealed to the international community on Thursday to send in human rights monitors to help deter military attacks on civilians in an increasingly bloody crackdown on popular unrest.
In a first direct call by the opposition for foreign intervention, the Syrian Revolution General Commission umbrella bloc of grassroots activists said a rise in the number of protesters killed during the almost six-month-old revolt had won over many reluctant Syrians to the need for outside help.
"Calling for outside intervention is a sensitive issue that could be used by the regime to label its opponents as traitors. We are calling for international observers as a first step," spokesman Ahmad al-Khatib told Reuters.
"If the regime refuses it will open the door on itself for other action, such as no-tank or no-fly zones," he said.
The announcement came as Syrian forces arrested tens of people in house to house raids in the city of Homs following military operations that killed at least 27 civilians in the last 24 hours. Activists and residents also reported more defections among the rank-and-file army.
To the northwest, in the province of Idlib near the border with Turkey, at least three army defectors were killed by the military as it raided the Jabal al-Zawiya area in pursuit of deserters, local activists said.
NO APPETITE FOR FOREIGN MILITARY ACTION
Syrian protesters have been chanting slogans calling for international protection but there has been no hint in the West of an appetite for a repeat of NATO air strikes that played a major role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
No country has proposed the kind of intervention in Syria that NATO carried out in Libya. Syria has three times Libya's population, and unlike isolated Libya it is intricately linked to neighbors on the fault lines of Middle East conflicts.
The West has however called on President Bashar al-Assad -- whose family has dominated Syria for 41 years -- to step down and has imposed punitive economic sanctions.
A Russian official said Moscow believes that Assad could hold on to power and Moscow hopes he could reconcile with the opposition.
Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin's envoy to the region, said on Thursday Moscow was holding out against a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria in the hope of winning support for its own draft, described by some diplomats as toothless.
Assad's government says it is fighting violence led by armed extremists and hundreds of members of its security forces have died trying to protect the population.
Yasser Saadeldine, an opposition political commentator based in Qatar, said the success of NATO's Libya campaign could encourage the West to reconsider its approach to Syria.
"The defeat of Gaddafi has given the West a historic opportunity to mend ties with the Arab and Muslim world."
In a statement, the activists' bloc said Assad's forces had killed more than 3,000 civilians in their drive to suppress the demonstrations. It said tens of thousands had been arrested, thousands displaced from their homes and thousands were missing.
Syrian authorities had "ignored all laws ... using heavy weapons in its pursuit of repression and killings." This created an urgent need for the international community to "take all necessary steps to protect civilians according to the United Nations charter," the statement said.
"Although we do not seek Arab or international military intervention ... we blame the regime for any intervention that could occur because of its intransigence and insistence on carrying out cold-blooded killings."
The Arab League said that its secretary general will visit Syria on Saturday and Arab foreign ministers will meet next week to convey concerns over the crackdown.
Homs, hometown of Assad's wife Asma, is on the main northern highway 165 km (100 miles) from Damascus. Old districts such as Bab Sbaa, Bab Dreib have seen the biggest daily protests to demand that Assad step down. Their maze-like streets help protesters escape security forces, activists and residents say.
The official state news agency said "armed terrorist groups" had killed eight security personnel in Homs on Wednesday and "assaulted civilians and security forces and attacked public and private property." Five armed men were also killed and several others arrested, it said.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has promised change, including a multi-party parliamentary election by February, but independent lawyers say a new political parties law keeps an old majority quota system for farmers and workers whose representation is controlled by the state.
Syrian authorities, which have barred most independent media from the country since the uprising began in March, say there have been no desertions from the military.
But activists in Idlib said the military has been intensifying operations in the northwest against defectors who try to flee to Turkey, entering the village of Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Armoush, one of the first officers to defect two months ago and announce his defection on YouTube.
"Hussein did not appear to be in the village, but his brother and cousin were injured. Army fire was directed at the village for several hours," one of the activists said.
(Additional reporting by Timothy Heritage in Moscow)