Discuss as:

Arab League halts observer mission due to violence

NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Updated 12:51 p.m. ET: Syria says it regrets an Arab League decision to halt its mission monitoring a peace plan in the country, official state television reported on Saturday.

"Syria regrets and is surprised at the Arab decision to stop the work of its monitoring mission after it asked for a one-month extension of its work,'' Syria Television reported in an urgent news flash.

Updated at 11:31 a.m. ET: The Arab League halted its observer mission to Syria on Saturday, sharply criticizing the regime of President Bashar Assad for escalating violence in recent days that has killed nearly 100 people across the country.

"Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence ... it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league's council," Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in a statement.

AP

This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria purports to show anti-Syrian regime protesters during a demonstration in Idlib province, Syria Friday.

A delegate at the league said no date had yet been fixed for a meeting of the council on Syria.

The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence that according to the United Nations has killed at least 5,400 people as Assad seeks to crush persistent protests demanding an end to his rule.

But the initiatives continue to face two major obstacles: Damascus' rejection of an Arab peace plan which it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia's willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.

Syrian government forces clashed with anti-regime army defectors across the country on Saturday. At least 20 were reported killed in the clashes and other violence. The new deaths come after two days of bloody turmoil killed at least 74 people, including small children.

NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin visits Zabadani and speaks with members of theĀ anti-regime Free Syria Army.

The Arab League and Western countries are pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria.

The Security Council discussed a European-Arab draft resolution on Friday aimed at halting the bloodshed.

Russia, which joined China in vetoing a previous Western draft resolution in October and which has since promoted its own draft, said the European-Arab version was unacceptable in its present form but said it was willing to "engage" on it.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow wanted a Syrian-led political process, not "an Arab League-imposed outcome of a political process that has not yet taken place" or Libyan-style "regime change.

The Arab League said it was in talks with Russia ahead of a Security Council meeting in New York. Britain and France said they hoped to put the draft resolution to a vote next week.

Published at 7:30 a.m. ET: A Syrian opposition group claimed Saturday that 130 people had been killed across the country in just 24 hours by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death toll while speaking to NBC News in London.

Activists also told Reuters Saturday that the bodies of 17 men previously held by Syrian security forces have been found in the city of Hama.

"They were killed execution-style, mostly with one bullet to the head. Iron chains that had tied them were left on their legs as a message to the people to stop resisting," Abu al-Walid, an activist in the city, told Reuters by telephone.

Another activist said the bodies, their hands tied with plastic wire and some with their legs chained, were dumped in the streets of five Hama neighborhoods on Thursday evening.

Turkey was due to meet Gulf Arab states later Saturday to reinforce support for an Arab call for Assad to quit.

The Arab League and Western countries are pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, resisted by Assad's ally Russia. The U.N. Security Council discussed a new European-Arab draft resolution on Friday aimed at halting the bloodshed.  

The United Nations Children's Fund also said Friday that at least 384 children had been killed and virtually the same number had been jailed during the course of the uprising.

UN Security Council weights action on Syria

The U.N., which estimated in mid-December that more than 5,000 people had been killed, says it can no longer keep track of the total death toll. The Syrian government says insurgents have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and policemen.

'Siding with the Syrian people'
Turkey urged Syria's leadership to comply with an Arab League transition plan that calls on Assad to step down.

"We are siding with the Syrian people and their legitimate demands," Turkish President Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying by the United Arab Emirates newspaper al-Bayan.

Outside Syria capital, suburbs look like war zones

Turkish officials say the number of Syrians seeking sanctuary in Turkey has risen in the past six weeks, with 50 to 60 arriving daily, taking the total living in refugee camps to nearly 9,600 from about 7,000 previously.

More than 6,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon.

Turkey, which spent years rebuilding relations with Syria, turned against Assad after he ignored its advice to enact reforms to calm what began in March as a peaceful uprising against his rule, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.

Russia, which joined China in vetoing a previous Western draft U.N> resolution in October and which has since promoted its own draft, said the European-Arab version was unacceptable in its present form but added that it was willing to "engage" on it.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized the draft, which endorses the Arab transition plan.

Moscow, he said, wants a Syrian-led political process, not "an Arab League-imposed outcome of a political process that has not yet taken place" or Libyan-style "regime change."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.