Fierce clashes were reported in Syria on Friday as a deadline passed with no agreement from the government of President Bashar Assad to an Arab League demand to accept monitors or face sanctions.
The league had given Syria 24 hours to sign a protocol for an observer mission that would monitor efforts to implement a peace plan endorsed this month by Assad’s government.
The league’s social and economic council was expected to meet Saturday to consider sweeping sanctions, which could include suspending flights, halting trade and financial dealings with the government and freezing its assets.
In a humiliating blow, Arab foreign ministers have already suspended Syria from the 22-member bloc for failing to implement the peace plan, which calls for a withdrawal of security forces from urban areas and dialogue with the opposition. But the league has repeatedly extended deadlines in the past.
Syria has accused the Arab League of acting as a tool of the United States and other Western governments. The official Syrian Arab News Agency on Friday called the threat of Arab sanctions “an unprecedented procedure” that “harms the interests of the Syrian people.” It reported large demonstrations against the league in the capital, Damascus, and several other cities.
Syria has said that it is taking steps to implement the league’s plan, including releasing hundreds of prisoners. But there was no sign that violence was abating in what has become one of the Arab world’s bloodiest uprisings.
Opposition activists said that as many as 27 people were killed as security forces fired on demonstrators and clashed with army defectors and other insurgents in a number of cities and towns. The heaviest toll was reported in the central Homs region, the epicenter of the uprising, where the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said 15 people were killed.
More than 3,500 people have been killed since protests erupted in March, according to United Nations figures. The government disputes the number.
SANA reported Friday that 10 military personnel, including six pilots, had died in an ambush the previous day on the road between Homs and Palmyra.
Syria restricts access by journalists and human rights monitors, making it virtually impossible to independently confirm either side’s account.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture, meanwhile, expressed alarm at what it described as “numerous, consistent and substantiated reports” of human rights violations in Syria, including the torture of children in detention.
So far, Arab and Western nations have shown little appetite for intervention, but that could be shifting.
France, which led the effort to impose a “no fly” zone over Libya, is seeking international backing for “humanitarian corridors” to get aid to besieged Syrian cities.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Friday in his nation’s capital, Ankara, that the former ally’s patience was “running out over the bloodshed in Syria.” He urged Assad’s government to agree to monitors, warning that if it did not, Turkey too would take steps in consultation with the Arab League.
Another longtime ally, however, expressed opposition to sanctions. “What is needed is not resolutions, not sanctions, not pressure, but internal Syrian dialogue,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow.
Special correspondent Alexandra Sandels contributed to this report.