- Syria says reaches deal with Arab League on unrest
- Trapped Burmese face arrest, extortion to flee Thai floods
- Israel to speed up settlement building in West Bank
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria said on Tuesday it had reached agreement with an Arab League committee tasked with finding a way to end seven months of unrest and starting a dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
State media reported "agreement regarding a final document on the situation in Syria", without giving details, saying an official announcement would be made at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday.
But a senior Arab League official said the organisation was still awaiting a response from Damascus to proposals for halting the bloodshed, which activists said continued on Tuesday with two civilians shot dead by Assad's forces in Homs and two soldiers killed by army deserters in an ambush.
One activist said gunmen dragged nine people, all of them from Assad's minority Alawite sect, from a bus on a road between the cities of Homs and Hama, and killed them.
The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on an uprising which erupted in March against his rule, inspired by revolutions which have toppled three Arab leaders this year.
Most Syrian opposition figures reject dialogue with authorities while the violence continues, and one activist said he feared any agreement in Cairo would give Assad a green light to continue his military campaign to crush dissent.
The United States, which has imposed sanctions on Syria's oil industry and key state businesses in response to Assad's crackdown, said that if Syria's accepted and implemenetd the Arab League's proposals it would be "very welcome".
But, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a briefing in Washington, "we have had a lot of promises of reform and only violence in terms of the action that we have seen from the Assad regime. So let's wait and see: a) whether we really have a deal here and b) whether that deal is implemented."
Syrian authorities blame militants who it says are armed and financed from abroad for the violence, saying they have killed 1,100 members of the security forces.
Arab League ministers met Syrian officials in Qatar on Sunday to seek a way to end the bloodshed.
Arab diplomats said the ministers proposed that Syria release immediately prisoners held since February, withdraw security forces from the streets, permit deployment of Arab League monitors and start a dialogue with the opposition.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the Arab League ministerial committee, also said Assad must launch serious reforms if Syria were to avoid further violence.
A Lebanese official with close ties to the government in Damascus said Syria had put forward its own proposals to the Arab League.
"The Syrian authorities want the opposition to drop weapons, the Arab states to end their funding for the weapons and the opposition, and an end to the media campaign against Syria," the official told Reuters.
It was not clear how much those demands were reflected in the final agreement announced by Syria's state media.
Omar Idlibi, a member of the grassroots Local Coordination Committee and member of the National Council, said the opposition wanted to see details of the agreement.
"We fear that this agreement is another attempt to give the regime a new chance to crush this revolution and kill more Syrians," he said.
"It helps the Syrian regime to remain in power while the demands of the people are clear in terms of toppling the regime and its unsuitability even to lead a transitional period."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before the Syrian announcement, said the Syrian leadership was "using the power of the weapon in its hand to try to silence the people".
Erdogan, once a close ally of Assad's, said Syria had taken their alliance for granted and ignored Turkish advice on how to respond to the protests which began with calls for reform but now demand an end to four decades of Assad family rule.
"The Syrian people will achieve the results of that glorious resistance," he told a meeting of his AK Party in parliament. "The people of Syria will secure themselves their rights and freedoms."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Arab League proposal offered both sides in Syria the chance to "decide their own future through national dialogue, national reconciliation, peacefully without resorting to violence".
Lavrov, speaking in Abu Dhabi, also said Russia would not allow NATO's military intervention in Libya -- which helped topple Muammar Gaddafi -- to be repeated in Syria.
Protesters in Syria have increasingly called for foreign intervention, although NATO has repeatedly said it has no plans for military action in Syria.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday he would cooperate with the opposition, but in another interview he warned Western powers they would cause an "earthquake" in the Middle East if they intervened in Syria, after protesters demanded outside protection to stop the killing of civilians.
Syria sits at the heart of the volatile Middle East, sharing borders with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
"It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake," Assad said. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?"
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Mahmoud Habboush in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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AYUTTHAYA, Thailand (Reuters) - With no money or identity documents and stranded in a foreign land for days on end without food and water, they are the forgotten people of Thailand's flood disaster.
Evacuation is not an option for hundreds of Burmese migrant workers marooned in the newly formed swamps and road-rivers that cover industrialised central Thailand.
Many are in Thailand illegally, but even the legitimate migrants fear arrest or becoming victims of extortion by Thai and Burmese border officials and opportunist mafia gangs.
"We have to take care of ourselves, we share the little food we have, but that's gone," said Show Tae, 34, who worked in a factory making pizza bases before water rushed in a month ago.
"We can't go home because we have no money and if I go back to Myanmar, there's no work there either."
In provinces like Ayutthaya, 100 km (65 miles) north of Bangkok, hundreds of Burmese are trying to ride out Thailand's worst floods in half a century, crammed into apartment blocks with no electricity and relying on a few aid groups to navigate submerged roads to deliver food, water and medical supplies.
Homes and shops have been destroyed, industrial estates housing hundreds of factories have been forced to shut down, leaving 650,000 people jobless. More than 400 people have been killed and 2 million affected since July.
People like Show Tae are not the priority as authorities, troops and relief workers battle to reach thousands of Thais cut off by water as deep as two metres in provinces like Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani and Nakhon Sawan.
Many Thais are in evacuation centres, or camped out along highways, sleeping in small tents, the back of parked trucks or under plastic sheets, but food and water is available.
Families are crammed into boats, rowing along roads and through rice fields with a backdrop of warehouses, tractors and bulldozers partially submerged by the muddy, foul-smelling water that has left this province looking like a coastal area.
For Burmese, the situation is even more dire. Activists say migrant workers hit by floods -- a crucial part of Thailand's $319 billion economy -- have been largely ignored.
"They have no one, nowhere to go and the factory owners can't take care of them," said Laddawan Tantivitayapitak of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), which was delivering food supplies to the Burmese victims on Tuesday.
"Many lost their documents and money in the floods. Other chose to flee but were arrested."
About 250 Burmese are believed to be receiving help in shelters, but tens of thousands more were affected by the flooding.
The Labour Ministry estimates there are more than 1 million foreign migrant workers in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, including those who are registered and those working illegally. Those with documentation are not permitted to travel beyond the provinces in which they are employed.
For many, evacuation means detention or the possibility of being delayed or blocked from returning to jobs in Thailand that help feed millions of impoverished people back in Myanmar.
Many have decided to go home anyway. Activists say thousands of labourers have escaped swamped areas and have been cramming into trucks, forced to part with about 2,500 baht ($81) to get to the Thai-Myanmar frontier, where some border officials on either side have been demanding informal fees just to allow them to get home.
"It is unacceptable for Thai and Myanmar officials to be profiteering from migrants' desire to go home in a time of disaster like this," said Andy Hall, a migration expert at Bangkok's Mahidol University.
"Thailand has not been able to efficiently and humanely provide for affected migrants inside the country so far."
Win, 19, a registered worker at the pizza base factory who was born in Thailand but does not have citizenship, said she and her colleagues were destitute and many living in fear.
"We no longer have work but my friends have no choice but to wait," she said. "They're too scared to leave."
(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel decided on Tuesday to accelerate Jewish settlement building and withhold Palestinian Authority funds, moves likely to further hold up international efforts to revive peace talks.
Israel's move came a day after UNESCO awarded the Palestinians full membership of the U.N. cultural agency, a diplomatic victory for the Palestinian Authority in its push for recognition as a state at the United Nations.
Israel called the UNESCO decision a "tragedy" and the United States said it would stop its funding of the organisation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the accelerated construction of some 2,000 housing units, said an official statement released after he convened his cabinet.
The Palestinian presidency said the decision to speed up settlement construction on land where the Palestinians aim to found a state amounted to a decision to "speed up the destruction of the peace process".
Nabil Abu Rdainah, the spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also described as "inhumane" the Israeli decision to temporarily withhold funds collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
A senior Israeli government official said after the cabinet meeting that the decision to halt money transfers to the Palestinians Authority was a temporary measure until a final decision was made.
"You can't demand from the Israeli public to continue to show restraint when the Palestinian leadership continues to slam the door in their face," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The statement said the new building will be in "areas that in any future arrangement will remain in Israel's hands".
The official said 1,650 of the new tenders are for units in eastern parts of Jerusalem, and the rest are for Efrat and Maale Adumim, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
In the absence of peace talks, which collapsed about a year ago in a dispute over settlement building, Abbas has been seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations.
Netanyahu has called to restart peace talks without preconditions, but Abbas says he will return to negotiations only after Israel totally freezes its settlement activity.
The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators -- which includes the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations -- has been trying to jumpstart the process and said last week both sides had agreed to offer proposals to solve two key sticking points, territory and security.
The Palestinians are looking to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.
Israel later annexed East Jerusalem, a move that has not won international recognition. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in 2007 the territory was taken over by Hamas Islamists, who are rivals to Western-backed Abbas and refuse to recognise Israel.
It will be the second time this year that Israel has withheld the revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The revenues, which include duties on goods being imported to the Palestinian territories, amount to around $100 million each month -- half of the PA's domestic revenue base.
Israel decided earlier this year to withhold the revenues when Abbas concluded a reconciliation agreement with the Hamas.
The freeze imposed temporarily earlier this year resulted in the PA not being able to pay salaries to its 150,000 employees on time for the first time since 2007.
The move comes with less than a week to go before Palestinian Muslims mark Eid al-Adha, when families spend more than usual on festivities.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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