Clashes broke out between Syrian troops and rebels outside Damascus on Saturday as world powers warned of the country descending into civil war.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he had asked the U.N. Security Council to take strong action in order to protect civilians in Syria.
“I sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council asking it to undertake all necessary measures to protect the Syrian people,” Arabi told AFP shortly before the opening of a meeting of the ministerial committee on the Syrian crisis.
Asked if he had called for armed action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Arabi said: “I have not referred to military intervention.”
Qatar meanwhile urged U.N. envoy Kofi Annan to set a timeframe for his Syria peace mission, and asked the UN Security Council to apply Chapter VII which permits military intervention.
“We request Mr. Annan to set a timeframe for his mission because it is unacceptable that massacres and bloodshed continue while the mission is ongoing indefinitely,” Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani told a ministerial committee on Syria attended by Annan.
“We demand the U.N. Security Council to refer the six-point (Annan plan) to Chapter VII so that the international community could assume responsibilities, he said.
Syrian troops conducted raids in search of anti-regime militants and clashed with rebels in several regions of the country, with at least 19 people killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In central Homs province, one civilian was killed during raids of the town of Karatin, and a man and his daughter were fatally shot on a bus on the road to Talbisseh.
Homs city was bombarded by shelling by regime forces for several hours overnight, leaving one rebel dead, according to the Britain-based watchdog.
Further north, in the coastal region of Latakia, the army attacked Kurdish communities, bombing from helicopters an area known as Kurdish Mountains. Injuries were reported but no deaths.
Near the capital, at least eight soldiers were killed at dawn during fighting with rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the area of Al-Ghouta Al-Sharqiyah.
And tensions spilled into neighboring Lebanon, as clashes between pro- and anti-Damascus gunmen killed one man and wounded five other people in the northern city of Tripoli.
On Friday, world leaders voiced fears that Syria, wracked by a nearly 15-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, stood on the brink of civil war.
At the same time in Geneva, the Human Rights Council ordered an independent probe to hunt those guilty of a massacre last week in Houla that rights chief Navi Pillay said could constitute a “crime against humanity”.
Forty-one of the 47-member council backed a call urging an investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, set up by the council last year to gather evidence on alleged rights abuses.
Russia and China, key allies of Assad, voted against the resolution, which they said was “unbalanced,” as it presumed the guilt of the Syrian authorities for the massacre of 108 people, mostly women and children.
On Friday, a U.S. government website published what it said was photographic evidence of mass graves and attacks on civilian areas by Syrian government forces.
The website, operated by a bureau of the State Department, published a series of overhead photos, said to be taken earlier this week by commercial satellite, showing what it said were mass graves dug following the Houla massacre.
They also showed apparent artillery impact craters near civilian areas of a town called Atarib.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said earlier this week that the people who died from artillery and tank fire were clearly victims of government shelling while the others were most likely killed by “shabbiha” militia loyal to Assad.
Signs of civil war
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Friday, warned that the situation in Syria was “extremely dangerous” and said he saw emerging signs of a civil war.
But he struck a fiery tone in a press conference with Hollande, indicating that Assad’s departure would not in itself resolve the crisis.
Hollande kept up the pressure for decisive action, insisting that Assad leaving power was “a prerequisite for a political transition”.
After talks with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in Istanbul, British Foreign Secretary William Hague voiced similar concerns.
“Both the secretary general and I -- and also the opposition in Syria -- think that Syria is on the edge of a catastrophic situation... on the edge of an all-out civil war and the collapse of Syria into sectarian strife,” Hague said.
Annan told the meeting of members of the Arab League that “the specter of an all-out war, with an alarming sectarian dimension, grows by the day.”
Burhan Ghalioun of the Syrian National Council, the divided body claiming to speak for political opposition to Assad, said: “With its support of the regime and for Assad remaining, Russia has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If it cooperates to find a formula that makes Assad leave, it will become part of the solution.”
The London-based Syrian Observatory says as many as 2,300 of the more than 13,400 people killed since the uprising against Assad’s regime began in March last year have died since the ceasefire began.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said the Annan plan had failed and announced that it would resume “defensive operations” after an ultimatum for the regime to adhere to the plan expired at noon Friday.
The U.N. ceasefire observer mission in Syria is now at “full strength,” with nearly 300 military monitors in the conflict-stricken country, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said Friday.
Because of the worsening violence and Assad’s failure to meet commitments under an agreed peace plan, the United States has warned that it may not agree to renew the mission, whose mandate expires on July 20.