Syria has agreed “in principle” to allow an Arab League observer mission into the country but has asked for certain amendments, the pan-Arab bloc has said.
The announcement came as fresh protests took place across the country calling on nations to expel Syrian ambassadors from their countries.
Walid al-Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, sent a letter to Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi requesting changes to the league’s proposal which entailed sending 500 observers to Damascus to try to help end the bloodshed, the league said.
“These amendments are currently being studied,” Arabi said in a statement on Friday, but he did not specify what they were.
Activists reported that at least 17 people were killed on Friday by security forces, including two children. Most of the dead were in the southern province of Daraa.
The Free Syrian Army were reported to have killed three members of the security forces on Friday.
On Wednesday, Arab leaders gave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad three days to halt his “bloody repression” of protests or risk sanctions.
The 22-member bloc voted at an extraordinary meeting in Cairo on Saturday to suspend Syria until Assad implemented the deal to end the crackdown, which has left at least 3,500 people dead since March, according to UN figures.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut in neighouring Lebanon, said: “The Syrian opposition is sceptical that the regime would implement the Arab League plan but they still want to test it.”
“They hope that the fact that observers may go to Syria would actually deter the government and give them more room to bring more people whether in demonstrations or even to stage a sit-in. This is a concern for the government.”
In another development, Britain’s foreign ministry said on Friday that it had appointed a senior diplomat to interact with Syria’s opposition.
“If there’s no response to the latest attempt of the Arab League, which has Turkey’s support, then certain measures must be taken”
– Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister
The ministry also said that Foreign Minister William Hague intends to meet opposition representatives “in the near future”.
Meanwhile, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on the UN Security Council to act against Assad’s government, saying the time has come to strengthen sanctions against Syria.
“We must continue to exert pressure,” Juppe said at a joint news conference with Ahmet Davutoglu , the Turkish Foreign Minister, in Turkey’s capital Ankara.
Davutoglu also increased pressure on Syria, saying that “if there’s no response to the latest attempt of the Arab League, which has Turkey’s support, then certain measures must be taken”.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, called for restraint over the crisis.
“We are calling for restraint and caution. This is our position,” Putin told a news conference, a day after his foreign minister had likened the situation in Syria to a civil war.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned on Friday of the possibility of a civil war in Syria that either is
directed or influenced by Syrian army defectors.
“I think there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition that is, if not directed by, certainly influenced by defectors from the army,” Clinton told the US network NBC.
“We’re already seeing that, something that we hate to see because we are in favor of a peaceful… protest and non-violent opposition.”
On Friday, activists said that Syrian troops have shelled two northern villages overnight after an attack by army defectors on forces loyal to Assad, in the first report of such an incident during the eight-month uprising.
Eight villagers were injured when tank shells and heavy mortars fell for three hours on Tal Minnij and Maarshamsheh and surrounding farmland, activists told the Reuters news agency.
“Hundreds of families have left. Electricity and internet services have been cut off,” said one activist who gave his first name as Raed.
Army defectors had earlier attacked a building housing security forces near army depots in the Wadi al-Deif area on the edge of the town of Maarat al-Numaan, 290km north of Damascus, the activists said.
The town, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, has seen regular street protests demanding Assad’s removal and raids by security forces to put down the demonstrations.
In the last few weeks, residents say a growing number of army defectors have been defending Maarat al-Numaan and attacking army patrols and roadblocks.
The authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who they say have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police.
Syria’s official news agency said troops carried out a “qualitative operation” in the region, arresting 58 wanted people and seizing rifles and bomb detonators.
The agency said eight “of the most wanted terrorist” were arrested on Thursday in the central city of Homs, where tanks have been deployed.