BEIRUT, Lebanon - The Arab League has given Syria until Wednesday to allow observers into the country or else it will likely turn to the U.N. Security Council for action to try to end the deadly violence against regime opponents, Qatar's prime minister said Saturday.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani said in Qatar that Arab foreign ministers will hold a "decisive and important" meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to decide on next steps. He said there is near unanimity on taking the Arab League's plan to the Security Council in hopes the world body can bring more pressure to bear on Damascus to accept it. Syria has demanded changes to the proposal, which calls for an end to the crackdown.
"We hope that the brothers in Syria sign before that date," Hamad said, referring to Wednesday's meeting.
The violence continued Saturday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead at least 20 people, most of them in the central province of Homs, a restive province that has seen intense protests and clashes since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March.
Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 34 people were killed, including eight army defectors. It did not say where the defectors were killed, but there have been reports of clashes in the northwestern province of Idlib.
The United Nations has been waiting for word from the Arab League before moving ahead with a resolution on Syria. A clear nod from Syria's Arab neighbors could ease Russian and Chinese opposition to sanctions. Both nations have veto power at the Security Council.
The Arab plan calls for Syria to halt its crackdown, hold talks with the opposition, and allow in Arab observers to ensure compliance with the deal. It does not call for foreign military intervention, as happened in Libya.
"We will not put forward a new initiative. We will put forward to the Security Council the Arab initiative and Arab resolutions," Hamad said. "We are not speaking about military intervention."
The 22-member Arab League has also suspended Syria's membership and imposed sanctions, but it has been divided over whether to seek the help of the international community beyond the Arab world. Hamad's remarks after an Arab ministerial committee meeting in Qatar indicated that the camp objecting to outside intervention may be getting smaller.
Syria has seen a sharp escalation in armed clashes recently, raising concerns that the country of 22 million is headed toward civil war.