The Arab League on Saturday threatened to take Syria to the U.N. over its deadly crackdown on dissent but an Iraqi mediator said he had "positive" talks in Syria aimed at defusing the nine-month crisis.
The Qatari prime minister warned that the Arab League would take Syria to the U.N. Security Council if it persisted in refusing to allow observers into the country to monitor the protection of civilians.
Arab foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday in Cairo to discuss taking the Arab peace plan to the U.N., said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani at the end of a meeting in Doha on the Syria crisis.
"As Russia has gone to the Security Council, a proposal will be presented in the (Arab ministers') meeting on December 21 that the Arab League goes to the Security Council to present the Arab initiative," Sheikh Hamad said.
The 22-member Arab bloc has been trying to persuade Syria to receive observers to monitor the situation as part of a plan to end the bloodshed.
“We are not talking about a military intervention, but we want the Security Council to adopt the Arab initiative,” stressed Sheikh Hamad.
On sanctions against Syria, he said: “We are not seeking to harm the Syrian people or destroy their country.”
On November 27, the Arab bloc approved a raft of sanctions against the Syrian authorities to punish their failure to heed an ultimatum to admit observers.
Earlier this month Syria finally said it would allow the mission, but set a number of conditions, namely the lifting of sanctions.
Ahead of Saturday's meeting in Doha, Arab League number two Ahmed Ben Helli had sounded hopeful that Damascus would sign the protocol and allow in observers.
"There are positive signs... I expect the signing will happen soon," he told Agence France Presse. But he quickly added: "It will not be today."
The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests which first erupted in the Middle East's most autocratic country in mid-March.
On Friday 19 more civilians were killed across Syria, activists said, amid mass rallies to criticize the Arab League's failure to take tougher action.
Meanwhile some 200 members of the opposition Syrian National Council were meeting for the second consecutive day in Tunis for talks behind closed doors aimed at honing a strategy to topple Assad's regime.
In the meantime, Western nations said Russia's surprise draft resolution should contain stronger condemnation of rights violations by the Assad government and stronger support for Arab League action.
The proposed resolution strongly condemns violence by "all parties, including disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities."
It also raises concern over "the illegal supply of weapons to the armed groups in Syria," according to a copy obtained by AFP.
Russia said it would not be calling for negotiations in the UN Security Council before Monday.
On Friday, security forces shot dead 19 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as hundreds of thousands of people rallied against the Arab League.
"The Arab League is killing us -- enough deadlines," was the protesters' slogan.
The Observatory said more than 200,000 protested in the besieged central city of Homs alone, venting their frustration at the Arab League, with rallies in other parts of the country.
It also reported violent clashes between regular army troops and deserters on Saturday in the northwestern Idlib region.
Across the border in Lebanon a farmer was killed on Friday when a landmine exploded as he drove his truck across an illegal border crossing. Syria has laced the region with landmines to stem the flow of weapons and prevent refugees and defectors from fleeing.
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