Twenty-six people have been killed by security forces in Syria, activists say, as the government has just hours to agree on a new Arab League deadline to allow observers in to monitor the country's unrest or face further sanctions.
Syria signalled on Sunday that it might still be willing to comply with the Arab League's plan but was negotiating some details.
"Messages are being exchanged between Syria and the Arab League to reach a certain vision that would facilitate the mission of observers in Syria, while preserving Syrian interests and sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in Damascus.
Syria's failure to meet an earlier deadline on November 25 to allow observers saw the imposition of a raft of measures aimed at halting the authorities' violent crackdown on dissent. Measures including a ban on dealings with the country's central bank and a freeze of Syrian government assets were imposed immediately.
Arab ministers have continued to meet to work out enforcement of the existing sanctions package.
Turkey also imposed sanctions on Syria last week, including a freeze on government assets and suspension of all financial dealings with Syria.
The state-run SANA news agency reported on Sunday that the Syrian government had decided to retaliate by suspending a free trade agreement which allows Turkish imports into Syria tax-free and by introducing a 30 per cent tariff on all Turkish goods.
SANA also reported that a funeral procession was held on Sunday for 13 soldiers who were killed by "terrorists".
"The martyrs were targeted by the armed terrorist groups while they were in the line of duty in Damascus countryside," the agency said.
President Bashar al-Assad's government says authorities are fighting foreign-backed armed groups who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police in an attempt to spark civil war.
Meanwhile, activists say November was the bloodiest month since the uprising started in March, with more than 700 civilians killed.
Eighteen of Sunday's deaths were reported in Homs province.
In Homs' Al Wa'ar neighbourhood, El-Shamayleh said activists had reported that "two cars carrying troops and Assad loyalists opened fire indiscriminately [on Sunday after midnight] and killed four members of the Teebeh family. They were in the street when they came under fire."
The United Nations' top human rights forum on Friday condemned Syria for "gross and systematic" violations by security forces, including executions and the imprisonment of about 14,000 people.
Syria dismissed the UN vote as "unjust" and "prepared in advance by parties hostile to Syria" in a foreign ministry statement carried by SANA.
More than 4,000 people have died since protests broke out in March, according to the United Nations, which says the violence in Syria is taking the shape of a civil war.
Most foreign media have been banned from Syria, making it difficult to verify reports.
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|William A. Cook|