Syria said on Tuesday it had reached agreement with an Arab League committee tasked with finding a way to end the seven months of unrest in the country and to start a dialogue between President Bashar Assad and his opponents.
State media reported an "agreement regarding a final document on the situation in Syria," without giving details, saying an official announcement would be made at Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday.
But a senior Arab League official said the organization was still awaiting a response from Damascus to proposals for halting the bloodshed, which activists said continued on Tuesday, with two civilians shot dead by Assad's forces in Homs and two soldiers killed by army deserters in an ambush.
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One activist said gunmen dragged nine people, all of them from Assad's minority Alawite sect, from a bus on a road between the cities of Homs and Hama, and killed them.
The U.N. says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on the uprising that erupted in March against his rule, inspired by revolutions which have toppled three Arab leaders this year.
Most Syrian opposition figures reject dialogue with authorities while the violence continues, and one activist said he feared any agreement in Cairo would give Assad a green light to continue his military campaign to crush dissent.
The U.S., which has imposed sanctions on Syria's oil industry and key state businesses in response to Assad's crackdown, said Syria's acceptance and implementation of the Arab League's proposals would be "very welcome."
But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a briefing in Washington, "We have had a lot of promises of reform and only violence in terms of the action that we have seen from the Assad regime. So let's wait and see: a) whether we really have a deal here, and b) whether that deal is implemented."
Syrian authorities blame militants for the violence, saying the militants are armed and financed from abroad, and that they have killed 1,100 members of the security forces.
Arab League ministers met Syrian officials in Qatar on Sunday to seek a way to end the bloodshed.
Arab diplomats said the ministers proposed that Syria release immediately prisoners held since February, withdraw security forces from the streets, permit deployment of Arab League monitors and start a dialogue with the opposition.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the Arab League ministerial committee, also said Assad had to launch serious reforms for Syria to avoid further violence.
A Lebanese official with close ties to the Syrian government said Syria had put forward its own proposals to the Arab League.
"The Syrian authorities want the opposition to drop weapons, the Arab states to end their funding for the weapons and the opposition, and an end to the media campaign against Syria," the official told Reuters.
It was not clear how much those demands were reflected in the final agreement announced by Syria's state media.
Omar Idlibi, a member of the grassroots Local Coordination Committee and member of the National Council, said the opposition wanted to see details of the agreement.
"We fear that this agreement is another attempt to give the regime a new chance to crush this revolution and kill more Syrians," he said.
"It helps the Syrian regime to remain in power while the demands of the people are clear in terms of toppling the regime and its unsuitability even to lead a transitional period."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before the Syrian announcement, said the Syrian leadership was "using the power of the weapon in its hand to try to silence the people."
Erdogan, once a close ally of Assad's, said Syria had taken the alliance with his country for granted and had ignored Turkish advice on how to respond to the protests, which began with calls for reform but now demand an end to four decades of Assad family rule.
"The Syrian people will achieve the results of that glorious resistance," he told a meeting of his AK party in parliament. "The people of Syria will secure themselves their rights and freedoms."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Arab League proposal offered both sides in Syria the chance to "decide their own future through national dialogue, national reconciliation, peacefully without resorting to violence."
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Lavrov also said Russia would not allow NATO's military intervention in Libya -- which helped topple Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi -- to be repeated in Syria.
Protesters in Syria have increasingly called for foreign intervention, although NATO has repeatedly said it has no plans for military action in Syria.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday he would cooperate with the opposition, but in another interview warned Western powers they would cause an "earthquake" in the Middle East if they intervened in Syria, after protesters demanded outside protection to stop the killing of civilians.
Syria sits at the heart of the volatile Middle East, sharing borders with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
"It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake," Assad said. "Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?"
Meanwhile, in a related development, Syria has planted landmines along parts of its border with Lebanon, further sealing itself off from the world and showing just how deeply shaken Assad's regime has become since the uprising began.
A Syrian official confirmed to The Associated Press that troops were laying the mines, saying they were aimed at stopping weapons from being smuggled into the country during the uprising.
"Syria has undertaken many measures to control the borders, including planting mines," a Syrian official familiar with government strategy told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Witnesses on the Lebanese side also told AP they had seen Syrian soldiers planting the mines in recent days.
The mines are the latest sign that Syria is working to prevent Lebanon from becoming a safe haven for the Syrian opposition as the uprising continues and the death toll mounts.
Syria and Lebanon share a 230-mile (365-kilometer) border, although it appears the land mines have been planted in two main areas in and around the restive province of Homs, which has endured some of the worst bloodshed: the first inside Homs province just across the border from Serhaniyeh in Lebanon, and the second in the Baalbek region bordering Homs and the countryside.
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