Activists say reprisal ambush in Hama province left eight soldiers dead after government forces killed five civilians.
Arab league ministers from five member states are due to meet in Qatar to discuss the body’s response to nine months of unrest in Syria, which the UN says has left more than 5,000 people dead.
“The meeting in Qatar on Saturday is going to be important because we will discuss what measures to take from now on,” said Ahmed Ben Helli, the Arab League deputy secretary-general.
“We are pained by what is happening in Syria, but I am still optimistic that the Arab League initiative will work so that we can stop the bloodshed.”
Delegates from Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Oman will be in attendance.
The 22-member bloc postponed an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers, originally scheduled for Saturday in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to allow more time for Damascus to endorse a peace plan or face sanctions.
An Arab diplomat based in Beirut told DPA, the German news agency, that the meeting had also been put off to give Russia a chance to support the Arab League’s efforts to end the violence.
Opposition activists reported that at least 17 people were killed by Syrian forces on Friday as demonstrators held mass protests against the Arab League’s perceived foot-dragging on punishing the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The protests were dubbed “The Arab League is Killing us – Enough Deadlines”.
State media said there were no deaths or injuries on Friday, despite what they said were attacks by “armed terrorist groups” on security forces.
News from Syria cannot be independently verified, as authorities have barred most foreign media from the country since the protests began in March.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, announced at a press conference on Saturday that he had sent a delegation to Syria to meet with officials and discuss an “Iraqi initiative” to end the country’s ongoing crisis.
Al Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom, reporting from Baghdad, said that the delegation, which is headed by national security adviser Falah al-Fayyad, aims to convince the Syrian government and opposition to meet in Iraq to discuss ending Ba’ath party rule, amending the constitution and holding elections.
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s new president, Moncef Marzouki, said in an interview aired on Friday that he was against foreign intervention in Syria.
“Of course I am opposed to foreign intervention in Syria,” he told France 24 in his first comments on the crisis in Syria since taking office on Tuesday, after the first elections since the so-called Arab Spring erupted in his country.
“I am sorry to see the Syrian revolution sliding towards violence,” he said.
“I hope that our Syrian brothers both inside and outside the country will unite and play a moral role to ensure that this revolution is democratic, peaceful, non-ethnic and without foreign intervention.”
Tunisia is hosting a three-day meeting of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria’s main opposition bloc.
Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the SNC and a Sorbonne University professor, said the goal of the meeting is to inject “more force and energy” into the opposition struggle.
Russia and China on Thursday submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Syria.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council’s presidency in December, did not disclose the exact content of the text, but said it would be discussed by the 15-member body.
Churkin talks to Al Jazeera about the draft resolution
Churkin told Al Jazeera that Russia believed there had been “considerable excesses” by some Syrian forces dealing with demonstrators.
However, he also said “extreme elements” had exploited protests and used demonstrators as “human shields” in order to attack police and security forces.
“We do believe that it’s not only the authorities but also extremist opposition forces who are causing damage and killing people so that is reflected in our draft,” he said.
“In the end, we want to have a strong statement in favour of stopping violence, upholding human rights, expediting reforms including constitutional reforms and encourage the Arab League to play a constructive, positive and peaceful role.”
The Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported that Farouk al-Sharaa, the Syrian vice-president, had arrived in the Russian capital, Moscow, on Friday for talks.
Al-Sharaa was to meet with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and other officials.