At least 26 people were killed Wednesday in military operations across Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad met with an Arab League delegation seeking to end months of bloody unrest.
Syrian state media quoted the head of the delegation, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, as saying the talks were "cordial and frank." He said Arab officials will meet again with Mr. Assad October 30.
The 22-nation Arab League is trying to facilitate a dialogue between Syria's government and the opposition's newly formed Syrian National Council. But activists say talks are "impossible" to consider, given the current security crackdown.
A banner carried by protesters in northern Syria Tuesday read "Russia gives Bashar international protection, Iran gives him weapons, and Arabs give him time. No dialogue with the killer of children."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 civilians died Wednesday in shootings by security forces nationwide, including 12 in the rebellious city of Homs. Eleven soldiers also were killed in the central Hama region, a hotbed of opposition to President Assad.
In Washington, the State Department said it hopes U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford can return to Damascus by the end of November.
He was withdrawn this week after the U.S. said "credible threats" against his personal safety were made against him. Ford often defied Syrian demands that he refrain from visiting areas where protests are strong.
In Damascus Wednesday, tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Mr. Assad, waving flags and chanting for him to remain Syria's president.
Opposition activists called for a nationwide strike that was observed in parts of Syria.
Mr. Assad has been facing growing international condemnation for his crackdown on dissent. The United Nations says the death toll from seven months of anti-government protests has topped 3,000.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.