An Arab foreign ministers taskforce on Syria sent President Bashar al-Assad an urgent message on Friday denouncing “the continued killings of civilians” and called on him to protect them.
“The Arab ministerial committee expressed its rejection of the continued killings of civilians in Syria and expressed its hope that the Syrian government will take the necessary measures to protect them,” said the message, which it published in a statement.
The statement came as a Syrian rights group said soldiers killed at least 41 people on Friday.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the deaths were in Hama, in the north, and Homs, in the center, and that security forces encircled mosques to prevent protests after weekly Muslim Friday prayers.
The ministerial committee, which met Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, said it would meet Syrian officials on Sunday in Qatar to try to reach “serious results and an exit to the Syrian crisis.”
The ministers said they had held “frank” talks with Assad on Wednesday in a bid to mediate with the opposition, as activists said at least 19 people were killed in violence that day.
“The meeting with President Assad was frank and friendly and we are going to continue our talks on October 30,” said Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani.
“We took note of the commitment of the Syrian government to work with the Arab committee to reach a solution.”
Headed by Qatar, the League’s current chair, the delegation is comprised of the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
Faced with a tough mission, Arabi has said he hopes “the Syrian regime will agree to this initiative, and begin with genuine reforms,” in comments to pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.
“It is my prerogative as secretary general of the Arab League to meet with any member of the peaceful opposition,” said Arabi, referring to a “disagreement” with Damascus after he met members of the Syrian opposition.
At an emergency session in Cairo on October 16, the 22-member League called for “national dialogue” between the government and opposition by the end of October to help stop the violence and avoid “foreign intervention” in Syria.
Syria’s representative to the League, Youssef Ahmed, slammed what he said was a “conspiracy” against Assad’s regime at the Cairo meeting.
But the initiative has also been criticized by the opposition.
“Arabs, do not get more involved in the bloodshed against us,” said the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a coalition representing some 40 opposition blocs.
“We will not accept anything less than Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and his trial,” they said.
In a show of support for the embattled president, a huge crowd of Assad supporters rallied in Damascus on Wednesday. State news agency SANA said more than a million people took part.
Clashes between security forces and soldiers who have deserted and joined the opposition calling for the ouster of Assad have become more frequent in past weeks, particularly in the centre of the country.
The leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, urged “all categories of people to go on strike” ahead of the launch of a massive campaign of civil disobedience.