France on Wednesday called for the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly gunned down at least four civilians in a new round of violence.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who met exiled Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghaliun in Paris, said he would take to Brussels the idea of escape routes for civilians fleeing Assad's forces.
"If there could be a humanitarian dimension to the zones, which could be secured to protect the population, that's a question that must be studied," Juppe said, adding that he considered Ghaliun's Syrian National Council (SNC) a "legitimate interlocutor."
Wednesday's deaths came on the eve of Arab League talks aimed at stopping Syria's escalating bloodshed. The 22-member league suspended Syrian membership last week.
The latest killings included two deaths in Hayalin, in central Hama province, and another two in the nearby besieged city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A day earlier, six children and five mutinous soldiers were among 34 people killed across the troubled country, the Britain-based group said in a statement.
Opposition activists have called for the implementation of no-fly zones and a buffer zone on Syrian territory to give the opposition room to organise and to allow a civilian escape route.
No official source has gone this far, however, and Juppe's statement was the first sign that something of the sort might be envisaged.
The French minister broached the issue during a phone call with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his office said.
The two "agreed to work together and with their partners on the possibility of humanitarian corridors," due to their concerns particularly about Homs, said Juppe spokesman Bernard Valero.
The United Nations says the conflict in Syria has claimed more than 3,500 lives, mostly civilians.
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The SNC, headed by Paris-based Ghaliun, is one of at least four Syrian opposition movements, but is seen as the most representative and claims to speak for activists both inside and outside the country.
Speaking to reporters after a joint news conference with Juppe, Ghaliun said the Syrian National Council did not want to see the fledgling Free Syrian Army, an armed rebel group, take the fight directly to the regime's far superior forces.
"We would like this army to carry out defensive actions to protect those who have left the (regime's) army and peaceful demonstrations, but not take on offensive actions against the army," he said.
Still, Syria's northern Muslim neighbour Turkey warned that the crisis was at the point of no return amid a growing chorus of international anger over the eight-month crackdown on dissent.
"The Baath regime continues to use oppression and violence on its own people. Violence breeds violence," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said of the ruling party in Syria.
Gul told an audience in London that Syria's fate was "important for the entire region, since the country sits on top of sectarian fault lines."
His comments came after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called for Assad to go, branding his onetime personal friend a coward and warning he risked the same fate as dictators who met bloody deaths.
But China criticised a UN human rights resolution condemning Assad's regime over its deadly crackdown on dissent.
"Using a resolution to pressure other countries is counterproductive to easing the situation," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
For its part, Syria's official SANA news agency on Wednesday reported the funeral of nine soldiers, members of the security services and police in Homs, Daraa in the south and suburbs of the Syrian capital.
Syria's suspension from the Arab League came after it failed to honour a deal it signed on November 2 to pull its troops off streets and talk to the opposition.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is tasked with investigating human rights violations in Syria, said it would publish its latest findings on Monday.