The United Nations has said there is an increasing risk of a Libyan-style civil war in Syria, as more Syrian soldiers deployed by the government to quell the country’s uprising are defecting to the opposition.
Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said on Wednesday: "Where basic human rights are trampled and peaceful demands for change met by brutal violence, people are eventually compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression."
"It happened in Libya, it may happen in Syria," she told the UN Security Council during a debate on protecting civilians in armed conflict.
Pillay’s comments came as armoured government force stormed villages in the central city of Hama in pursuit of army defectors challenging President Bashar al-Assad's rule, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The UK-based rights group said tanks pounded villages near the town of Maharda and casualties were reported on both sides in fighting.
The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network reported on Wednesday that at least 26 people were killed across the country, including two children.
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Pillay said that "more and more soldiers refuse to become complicit in international crimes and are changing sides. There is a serious risk of Syria descending into armed struggle".
A defected soldier told Al Jazeera he was trying to protect peaceful protesters from the government forces.
“We have clashes with whoever tries to attack the civilians, or tries to kill or terrorise the citizens," he said.
“For the time being we get all help and assistance from inside Syria. We just need to provide a safe place for the dissidents and those who defected."
Pillay reiterated UN estimates that "well over 3,500" people had been killed in Syria since anti-government demonstrations began in March.
"Tens of thousands of people, including doctors, nurses and wounded patients, have been arbitrarily arrested and many remain detained incommunicado, placing them at serious risk of torture."
Syria had agreed to an Arab League plan on November 2 pledging to pull its military from restive cities, but Pillay told the 15-nation Security Council she was "concerned that the killing of civilians has not stopped."
'No foreign intervention'
Also on Wednesday, a Syrian opposition delegation arriving in Cairo for talks with the Arab League said it supported sending observers to Syria to document attacks by Assad’s government on civilians.
However, the delegation said it opposed foreign intervention.
Hassan Abdel Azim, the general co-ordinator of the Syrian National Co-ordination Committee (SNCC), was the only person who managed to get inside the Arab League headquarters and meet with Nabil al-Araby, the Arab League secretary-general, as the four-man delegation were greeted by demonstrators who threw eggs at them.
The SNCC is a rival to the broad-based Syrian National Council group.
Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf said incident was an indication of how divided the Syrian opposition is.
She said: "The protesters, many of which are Syrian exiles, are saying that these people meeting at the Arab League are agents of the Syrian government, calling them traitors."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies