Syrian forces killed at least 12 people on Friday, as supporters and opponents of UN action against the regime crossed swords at the Security Council over a crackdown that has cost more than 3,000 lives.
"Twelve people were killed today" and dozens wounded, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP by telephone.
Security forces killed seven people in Dael, a woman and a boy in the flashpoint town of Daraa, both in southern Syria, two in and around Damascus and another on the outskirts of Aleppo, he said.
The state news agency SANA denied the presence of security forces in Dael.
Pro-democracy activists had called for nationwide demonstrations in support of "free soldiers" -- a reference to defectors -- after 36 people, including 25 soldiers, were killed in clashes across Syria on Thursday.
There were clashes of another kind at the Security Council in New York between supporters and opponents of UN action against Syria, diplomats there said.
Envoys for Germany, France, Britain and Portugal raised President Bashar al-Assad's deadly assault on protesters during closed-door consultations.
Russia and China last week vetoed a resolution which had raised the prospect of potential measures against Damascus.
"The advocates of inaction on Syria should draw conclusions from the latest appalling developments," French UN ambassador Gerard Araud told the closed meeting, according to diplomats.
His comments were a veiled attack on Russia and China, but also South Africa, Brazil and India which abstained in the Syria vote last week, diplomats said.
Envoys from Germany, Britain and Portugal also said the UN Security Council must take action on Syria, diplomats said.
The Europeans raised comments made earlier by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay in Geneva that the toll from seven months of clashes in Syria had risen above 3,000. She said Syria risked "a full-blown civil war" unless the international community took action.
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Russia and China have insisted the Security Council should not be moving toward sanctions.
China's envoy told Friday's meeting that Pillay's statement should not have been discussed at the Security Council, the diplomats said. Russia also objected to discussion on Syria.
Russia has distributed its own text which mainly calls for a negotiated settlement, but angered the European nations and Washington because it gave equal criticism to the opposition violence and killings by security forces.
The six Arab states of the Gulf, meanwhile, have demanded an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Sunday to discuss the unrest in Syria, an Arab League official in Cairo said.
The 22-member League has not yet approved the request but such meetings need only the approval of two members to take place.
Abdel Rahman of the Syrian rights observatory said there had been "massive demonstrations" in several Syrian cities even without formal UN support and despite a significant deployment of security forces.
These included a rally in Deir Ezzor, "the largest since military operations ended there in August," he said by phone.
Syrians also staged demonstrations in the northwestern province of Idlib, where thousands of people rallied in Maaret Horma; the central region of Homs, the coastal city of Latakia and in Damascus, he added.
The Observatory has reported mounting armed resistance to security forces. Clashes in Banash and Daraa on Thursday pitted troops against deserters, who apparently mutinied rather than obey orders to shoot civilian protesters.
On Friday, it reported "violent clashes and heavy gunfire between the Syrian army and armed men, believed to be defectors," in Saqba.
Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network spurring anti-regime protests, said gunfire was heard in the central cities of Hama and Homs, and the northern region of Aleppo.
SANA said an "explosive devise went off on the road connecting the Abubakr and Omari mosque in Daraa causing several civilian casualties."
Western governments have issued increasingly shrill warnings that unless the Assad regime heeds popular demands for reform, the so far peaceful protest movement risks resorting to violence.