Syrian government troops pulled back tanks and other armoured vehicles from the town of Zabandi as observers in the country prepared to hand in a report on their mission to Arab foreign ministers.

Zabandi has witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days. But activists say armoured vehicles have withdrawn to two military barracks a few kilometres outside the town bordering Lebanon.

Arab foreign ministers, meanwhile, were expected to review the monitors' report at the league's headquarters in Cairo over the weekend to decide on their next steps. The report was to be delivered to them on Thursday.

Last month, the league dispatched 165 monitors to fan out over Syria and oversee an agreement calling on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to stop the military crackdown on dissent and release political prisoners.

Qatar, which heads the league's committee on Syria, has suggested the mission has failed. The opposition claims it only served as a cover for the regime to continue its brutal crackdown against protesters.

The United Nations estimates 5,400 activists have died since the popular uprising began last March and that more than 400 have been killed since the Arab observer mission began Dec. 26.

The pullback from Zabadani left the town under the control of the opposition, activists said. However, they said at least nine people were killed by security forces elsewhere in Syria. 

P.O.V.

What should the Arab League ministers do about Syria? Have your say.

Although the mission's initial mandate has expired, the agreement allowing for their deployment provides for an extension for a second month if both sides agree. There's no suggestion from the Syrian government side that it should be ended, so the decision is up to the Arab foreign ministers.

They meet in Cairo on Saturday, where they will be considering a report from the head of the observer mission, drawing conclusions on its findings.

The Arab ministers may also discuss informally a proposal from Qatar for Arab troops to be sent to Syria to stop the clashes between protesters and government forces. It's an idea Damascus has angrily rejected.

With files from The Associated Press