Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has warned that any Western intervention would cause an "earthquake" inflaming the region, after almost 100 people died in the bloodiest two days of the uprising against his rule.
Assad in an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper warned of "another Afghanistan" if foreign forces intervened in his country as they had with the Libyan uprising that toppled Moamer Kadhafi.
"Syria is the hub now in this region," the paper quoted Assad as telling one of its journalists in Damascus.
"It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake -- do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?
"Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region."
His warning came as 20 Syrian soldiers were killed on Saturday and 53 wounded in clashes with presumed army deserters in Homs, while 10 security agents and a deserter were killed in a bus ambush, activists said.
Separately, at least 12 civilians died from fire by snipers and machine-guns, while an undetermined number of others were killed in their homes by security forces in the area of Homs on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The civilian casualties followed a toll of 36 people killed in security force fire on Friday when protesters took the streets to urge the West to impose a Libya-style no-fly zone over Syria, and 17 soldiers died when deserters attacked checkpoints in Homs later that night.
Homs and Hama provinces have been at the forefront of anti-government protests since mid-March that have been brutally put down by the security forces. According to the UN, the crackdown has claimed more than 3,000 lives, mostly civilians.
Assad's remarks to the Sunday Telegraph coincide with a report Sunday in a Kuwaiti newspaper that Arab League ministers who held talks with the president in Damascus on October 26 warned him to stop the violence and start reforms or face an international intervention.
Citing well-informed Arab sources, Al-Qabas daily said the Arab League ministerial delegation told Assad that failure to resolve the crisis within an Arab fold would mean "internationalizing" the issue.
"The Arab delegation was frank and clear during its meeting with the Syrian leadership and warned that if an Arab solution fails, it would mean internationalizing the crisis," the daily cited the sources as saying.
"This would mean Syria should expect a foreign intervention and a painful international blockade on the economy and other aspects," it added.
The Arab League task force in a statement issued on Saturday "expressed its rejection of the continued killings of civilians in Syria and expressed its hope that the Syrian government will take the necessary measures to protect them."
The Arab League team, headed by Qatar, was due to hold talks Sunday in Doha with top Syrian officials to try to reach "serious results and an exit to the Syrian crisis," the statement said.
But Syria's foreign ministry accused the Arab committee of stoking dissent, having been influenced by "lies spread by television channels."
It said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem would "inform the committee (on Sunday) of the true situation in Syria," the state-run news agency SANA reported.
The meeting comes as Syrian activists urged the Arab League to suspend Syria's membership in the 22-member organization.
"Assad's militias have been killing us for eight months. They arrest us and crush us... And you, Arabs, who love rhetoric, what are you doing," the Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the motors of dissent, said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
The activists also called for fresh protests nationwide on Sunday under the banner "freeze the membership" of Syria in the Arab League.
"Stop your support for the assassins," it told the pan-Arab body.