Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi
An Arab League team held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the start of a bid to mediate with the opposition, as activists said at least 15 people were killed in violence on Wednesday.
Headed by Qatar, the League's current chair, the delegation comprises 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 end the violence and avoid "foreign intervention" in Syria.
Syria's representative to the 22-member Arab League, Youssef Ahmad, slammed what he said was a "conspiracy" against Assad's regime at the Cairo meeting.
But the initiative has also been opposed 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, tens of thousands of Assad supporters rallied in Damascus on Wednesday.
The demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and brandishing pictures of Assad, swarmed to Omayyad square, chanting, "The people want Bashar al-Assad."
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 people, including nine government soldiers, had been killed in the latest unrest between Assad loyalists and opponents.
"Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in Al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road," it said.
Clashes between security forces and soldiers who have deserted and joined the opposition calling for the ouster of Assad, have become more frequent in recent weeks, particularly in the centre of the country.
The Britain-based Observatory said that four civilians, including an 18-month-old baby, were killed and 17 wounded by security forces in the central Homs region, one of the bastions of the Syrian opposition.
Another civilian was killed by shots coming from a military checkpoint at Saraqeb, in the northwestern province of Idlib, while a 63-year-old man was killed in the eastern region of Abu Kamal, it added.
The Syrian opposition called a nationwide general strike in protest against the regime's crackdown on protest that has left at least 3,000 people dead since mid-March, according to UN figures.
The leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, urged "all categories of people to go on strike" on Wednesday ahead of the launch of massive campaign of civil disobedience.
"The strike is an expression of the desire to pursue a peaceful campaign until victory," an NSC statement said, adding that a strike had been observed in Daraa, cradle of the protests, for the past six days.