At least 228 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party have resigned in protest of President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
A group of more than 200 party members from Deraa province resigned Wednesday, signaling their anger at a bloody ongoing attack by security forces against the flashpoint regional capital.
Earlier, at least 28 party members from the troubled coastal city of Banias resigned, accusing troops and pro-government gunmen of opening fire against "honorable citizens" as well as "homes, mosques and churches."
Resigning from the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since a 1963 coup, would have been unthinkable even a month ago.
The government's troop deployment continued Wednesday in the Damascus suburb of Douma and in Banias. Soldiers also bolstered their positions in Daraa, which remains without electricity, water or telecommunications.
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts are under way on several fronts to stop the violence.
Five European Union nations, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain, Wednesday summoned Syrian ambassadors in a coordinated demand that Mr. Assad's government stop the violent crackdown. EU officials also are considering imposing economic sanctions on Syria.
The United Nations Human Rights Council announced it will hold a special session on Syria Friday.
But in a setback for Western efforts to pressure Mr. Assad, U.N. Security Council members failed Wednesday to agree on a statement condemning Syria's violence against protesters. There was resistance from Russia, China and Lebanon.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an independent inquiry into the violence. On Tuesday, he condemned the use of tanks and live fire that have killed and wounded hundreds.
Syrian opposition figures have urged Mr. Assad to ensure a transition to democracy as demanded by protesters. In a statement Wednesday, activists said the president must lead a transition period or the country will go through a "massive grassroots revolution" that will bring down the government.
President Assad last week ended the country's 48-year-old emergency law - a key demand of protesters - and abolished a state security court. But the government then unleased its brutal military crackdown to crush the demonstrations.
More than 400 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last month. The Syrian rights organization Sawasiah says at least 500 people have been arrested.