|Falah al-Fayadh, Iraq's National Security adviser, met with President Bashar al-Assad to discuss Syria's turmoil [AFP]
Gulf officials have expressed hope that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might finally sign an Arab League peace aimed at ending a crackdown on protests and averting civil war.
After six weeks of Syrian stalling, Qatar said it had information Assad would sign the plan, which calls for withdrawing the army from towns that have turned against him, freeing thousands of political prisoners, starting dialogue with the opposition and letting monitors into the country.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
"We have information that indicates that he will sign the initiative. If this is true or not true, we'll see," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said: "We are optimistic that Syria will join the Arab League in signing the protocol, which is ready now, within 24 hours."
"That is what we hope for. If not, the Arab League foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday to consider measures that might be taken in the future," he said in Riyadh.
The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and announced sanctions over Assad's refusal so far to sign up to its peace plan.
Arab ministers are set to meet later this week and could decide to submit their plan to the UN Security Council, making it a potential basis for wider international action.
The 22-member League has been divided over whether to seek the help of the wider international community beyond the Arab world.
Armed clashes erupted in Syria again on Sunday, killing at least 23 civilians and six government troops in central and northern Syria, activists said.
Heavy gunbattles were also reported on Sunday in several villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the northern Idlib province near the Turkish border, where many defectors are believed to be operating.
Activists say that twelve of the civilians killed on Sunday were in the city of Homs.
Syria has seen a sharp escalation in armed clashes recently, raising concerns the country of 22 million is slipping toward civil war nine months into the uprising.
Meanwhile, Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi who was arrested on December 5 at the border with Jordan has been released by authorities, her sister Nadine said on her Twitter account.
Ghazzawi, 31, had been documenting human rights abuses in recent months, and was arrested at the border while on her way to Jordan for a conference on press freedoms.
She was charged by authorities with trying to incite sectarian strife, spreading false information and weakening national sentiment, a charge often levelled against those who challenge the Syrian regime, according to rights activists.
Iraq has also attempted to end months of unrest in Syria by holding talks with the Damascus regime, opposition groups and the Arab League, an Iraqi official said on Sunday.
"We had very positive discussions on Sunday with the secretary general of the Arab League, who supported our initiative alongside that of the Arab League in an effort to find a solution between the Syrians," Falah al-Fayadh, Iraq's National Security Adviser, told the AFP news agency.
"Our next step is to launch our initiative, and this task will be led by the foreign minister [Hoshyar Zebari] who will announce the details and mechanisms to the Arab League and the Syrian parties soon," he said.
A day earlier, he said he held "positive talks" with Assad on a visit with an Iraqi delegation to Damascus.
"Our efforts are still continuing to reach a deal between the government and the opposition in Syria," he said. "It's too early to speak about the results."
Fayadh said on Sunday that Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi is "for an Arab solution and against internationalisation of the crisis".