The Syrian military vowed today to “cut every evil hand that targets Syrian blood”, as it missed an Arab League deadline to allow observers in or face economic sanctions.
The country’s violence is worsening as President Bashar Assad tries to quash the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year dynasty.
The regime said ten military personnel were killed in an ambush on Thursday and activists reported at least three people killed in clashes today.
Mr Assad is facing the most severe isolation his country has seen in decades because of the violence.
A largely peaceful uprising against him began in March, but it has become more violent as defectors from the army turn their guns on security forces and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.
The military said six elite pilots and four technical officers were killed in an ambush in Homs, in an unusually high-level strike.
“Our armed forces (will) continue to carry out our mission to defend the country’s security, and we will hit back against anything that threatens us,” the statement said.
It is not clear who was behind the attacks. Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from moving freely.
On Thursday, the Arab League gave Syria 24 hours to agree to an observer mission or face sanctions, a humiliating blow to a nation that was a founding member of the Arab coalition.
But the Friday afternoon deadline passed with no agreement.
Instead, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby received a letter from Syria seeking more details about the proposed observer mission and its legal status.
The League will meet on Saturday to decide on sanctions, according to Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Heli. The punishments could include halting flights and imposing a freeze on financial dealings and assets.
One senior diplomat said the League would still accept an agreement from Syria by the end of the day – even though the official deadline has passed.
A UN human rights panel expressed alarm at reports it received of security forces in Syria torturing children. The Geneva-based Committee against Torture says it has received “numerous, consistent and substantiated reports” of widespread abuse in the country.
Former ally Turkey – now a leading critic of Mr Assad’s regime – said allowing the observers would be a “test of goodwill” for Syria.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency, however, dismissed the ultimatum, declaring that the Arab League had become a “tool for foreign interference” and that it was serving a Western agenda to stir up trouble in the region.
SANA also said thousands of people were demonstrating in support of the regime.
But violence continued today, after activists urged protesters to flood the streets to support army defectors who have sided with the opposition.
Syrian security forces fired outside mosques in Daraa province – apparently to prevent demonstrations by people leaving mosques after Friday afternoon prayers, activists said. Demonstrations were reported in Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
At least three people were reported killed, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.