Syrian security forces reportedly killed as many as 17 people Friday, as an Arab League deadline loomed for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to end months of bloodshed or face sanctions.
The Arab League has suspended Syria and set a Saturday evening deadline for Damascus to comply with an Arab peace plan — entailing a military pullout from restive areas and an end to the violence that the UN estimates has killed at least 3,500 people since March, according to Reuters.
Activists said the deaths occurred after weekly prayers as, the LA Times reported, thousands of demonstrators reportedly turned out accross Syria chanting anti-government slogans and calling on countries to expel their Syrian ambassadors.
Meanwhile, Damascus was reportedly seeking changes to the terms of an agreement by which it would allow an observer mission into Syria — part of an Arab League peace initiative.
According to the LA Times:
Syria insists it has begun implementing the plan in good faith, releasing more than 1,500 prisoners and offering an amnesty for gunmen with "no blood on their hands."
And the BBC was quoting a source as saying that Syria had conditionally accepted an observer mission and while a few adjustments were being worked out, "they were not designed to hinder the mission."
Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, reportedly said that he had received a letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem that included amendments to the draft protocol.
As the diplomacy continued, pictures emerged showing thousands of protesters on the streets of Syria — reportedly both pro- and anti-government.
An opposition coalition told the LA TImes that among the 17 people reportedly killed Friday were "three children, killed in shelling in the southern city of Dara, where the protest movement began in mid-March."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meantime, said Friday that while Syria could slide into civil war, there's "no appetite" for the kind of US or UN military intervention in Syria like what took place in Libya.
"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 NBC news in an interview in Indonesia, where she was attending a regional summit.