REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The Syrian government lashed out at the Obama administration Saturday for "blatant interference in Syrian affairs" after the State Department advised people in the country against surrendering as part of an amnesty offered by the regime.
Syria accused Washington of "inciting sedition, supporting the acts of killing and the terrorism," the official Syrian news agency said, quoting an official source at the Foreign Ministry.
Damascus frequently denounces "foreign" interference, but Saturday's broadside was among the most pointed outbursts. The Obama administration has called for President Bashar Assad to step down amid an uprising in the police state that has seen an estimated 3,000 civilians killed.
The comments came a day after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that she would counsel Syrians to reject the amnesty, in which those the government terms arms violators were asked to turn themselves in with their weapons "to the nearest police station" during a one-week period that began Saturday. Those who surrender and have not killed anyone “will be released soon,” the Interior Ministry vowed.
"I wouldn't advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment," Nuland told reporters in Washington. The department had no further comment Saturday.
The opposition called the amnesty a sham and a trap in a police state where thousands of suspects are being held incommunicado.
Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, warned in Cairo on Saturday of "disastrous consequences" if a league-brokered peace pact for Syria fails.
Assad recently agreed to the league plan, which calls for a withdrawal of troops from populated areas, a release of prisoners and a new "dialogue" with opponents, among other terms.
The opposition accuses the Assad regime of ignoring the peace pact and continuing to attack protesters. Activists said that 22 people were killed Saturday — including 19 in the central city of Homs, the site of fierce clashes and apparent sectarian slayings in recent days.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: A Syrian boy plays with his toy gun in the old city of Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. Credit: Muzaffar Salman/Associated Press