An Arab League delegation has held talks with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, amid reports of more deadly clashes betwen security forces and army deserters backing protesters demanding the president’s resignation.
The delegation, led by Qatar’s prime minister, arrived in Syria on Wednesday as tens of thousands of pro-government supporters packed into Omayyad square in the heart of Damascus, chanting “The people want Bashar al-Assad”.
Delegates included the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Nabil al-Arabi, the head of the Arab League.
State-run Syrian TV quoted Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, the delegation leader, as saying the meeting was “frank and friendly”.
Al Thani also said the delegation felt that the Syrian government was eager to work with the Arab committee “in order to reach a solution”.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon due to restrictions imposed by Syrian authorities, said there were issues the two parties agreed and disagreed on.
Rula Amin reports on the Syrian protests
“They are going to meet again on Sunday – and that puts more faith in that initiative than people had anticipated in the beginning. Now it doesn’t mean that it will work, but at least it isn’t failure from the first meeting,” she said.
At an urgent session in Cairo on October 16, the 22-member Arab League called for “national dialogue” between Syria’s government and the opposition by the end of October to help end the violence and avoid “foreign intervention” in Syria.
Syria has rejected previous Arab initiatives, and it was not clear if this would be different, or if the regime was trying to gain time to try to crush the uprising.
The meeting came as the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 15 more people, including nine government soldiers, had been killed on Wednesday in the latest clashes between Assad loyalists and forces backing anti-government protests.
“Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in Al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road,” the rights group said.
Clashes between security forces and soldiers who have deserted and joined the opposition have become more frequent in recent week, particularly in the centre of the country.
On Tuesday the rights group said seven security agents had been killed in the Maarat al-Noman clashes, after their convoy was attacked by army deserters backing protesters.
In Wednesday’s violence the observatory said that four civilians, including an 18-month-old infant, had also been killed and 17 others wounded by security forces in the central Homs region, one of the bastions of the Syrian opposition.
Several districts in the area had been targeted by rocket-fire, the group said.
Another civilian had been killed by shots coming from a military checkpoint at Saraqeb, in the northwestern region of Idlib, while a 63-year-old man had been killed the eastern region of Abu Kamal, it added.
Protests against the Syrian regime erupted in March and have shown no signs of ending despite the rising death toll.
The UN estimates at least 3,000 people, including members of the security forces, have been killed since the protests started.
In Washington, US senators said the UN Security Council should refer credible charges of alleged crimes against humanity by Assad to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a letter to Washington’s UN envoy, Susan Rice, the legislators said it was time for the ICC to look into “deeply troubling and grave charges” against Assad amid the crackdown on protesters.