msnbc.com news services
updated 11/25/2011 7:38:39 AM ET 2011-11-25T12:38:39

A U.N. human rights panel expressed alarm Friday at reports it has received of Syrian security forces torturing children.

The Committee Against Torture said it had received "numerous, consistent and substantiated reports" of widespread abuse in the country.

The chair of the panel, Claudio Grossman, told reporters in Geneva that the reports referring to the abuse of children were of "particular concern."

The U.N. human rights office says more than 3,500 people have been killed in the eight-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, Syria ignored a deadline imposed by the Arab League to allow an observer mission into the country or face economic sanctions, a senior Arab League diplomat said Friday.

The diplomat said the Friday afternoon deadline passed with no word from Damascus. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The 22-nation bloc had given Syria 24 hours to agree to the observer mission, saying it would meet to decide on punishing measures that could include a freeze on financial dealings and assets if the deadline was missed.

Patience 'running out'
Syria is the scene of the deadliest crackdown against the Arab Spring's eruption of protests and international pressure has been mounting on Assad to stop the bloodshed.

Earlier Friday, before the deadline passed, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Syria faced a test of goodwill over the proposal and said the country "must open its doors to observers."

Davutoglu said the patience of Turkey and Arab countries was "running out over the bloodshed in Syria."

He spoke during a joint news conference with Italy's new Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi in Istanbul.

Terzi described the situation in Syria as a "worrying tragedy."

Syria had previously slammed the Arab League's ultimatum, which increased the international pressure on Assad's government following France's proposal for "humanitarian corridors" to be set up to alleviate civilian suffering.

However, Russia, China and their partners in the BRICS group of emerging economies warned against foreign intervention without U.N. backing and urged Assad to start talks with the opposition.

Story: 5 children among 23 civilians killed in Syria, rights group says

Under an Arab League initiative, Syria had agreed to withdraw troops from urban centers, release political prisoners, start a dialogue with the opposition and allow monitors and international media into the country.

Since then hundreds of people, including civilians, security forces and army deserters, have been killed as the unrest which the U.N. says has claimed at least 3,500 lives since March continued unabated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said at least 47 people were killed in Syria Thursday, including 16 soldiers and 17 army deserters, mostly around the city of Homs and Rastan to the north.

"In the case that Syria does not sign the protocol ... or that it later violates the commitments that it entails, and does not stop the killing or does not release the detainees ... (Arab League officials) will meet on Saturday to consider sanctions on Syria," the Arab ministers said in a statement.

Story: Army defectors threaten to transform Syrian uprising into civil war

Possible sanctions, which are not intended to affect ordinary Syrians, included suspending flights to Syria, stopping dealings with the central bank, freezing Syrian government bank accounts and halting financial dealings.

They could also decide to stop commercial trade with the government "with the exception of strategic commodities so as not to impact the Syrian people," the statement said.

Syria's economy is already reeling from the eight months of unrest, aggravated by U.S. and European sanctions on oil exports and several state businesses.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership two weeks ago, while this week the prime minister of neighboring Turkey — a NATO member with the military wherewithal to mount a cross-border operation — told Assad to quit and said he should be mindful of the fate of fallen dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Libya's deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi.

"The Syrian crisis may or may not have entered its final phase, but it undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous one to date," the International Crisis Group said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to his report.

Video: Start of a civil war in Syria?

  1. Closed captioning of: Start of a civil war in Syria?

    >>> amateur video out of syria shows what may be the start of a civil war . a growing number of defectors taking up arms against government troops and tanks. we should note msnbc has not been able to independently verify this video. richard engel is the chief foreign correspondent and is live in istanbul. we know part of this started with the arab league meeting in moroc morocco, but what dynamic are you hearing from your sources now?

    >> reporter: we're seeing two very different dynamics, but both of them have the same objectives to pressure syria and pressure the regime of bashar al assad , much more pressure coming from the arab league , tluding the three-day deadline to allow international observers including journalists in that they don't allow the observers to go in, they will face more sanctions. syria would have to stop the violence , no indication that syria has any intention in either allowing the observers or stopping the violence. that's diplomatically. on the ground we're watching the rea emergence of the free syrian army . it is a group of defectors, how big it is is unclear. according to members of the free army we've spoken to, they say they have a source of 15,000, who let the formal security forces of syrian government and join this rebel army, now the regime itself dismisses that number, the 15 to 20,000 as wildly inflated. what cannot be denied, however, is that this rebel group is starting to take military action . it has some relatively sophisticated weapon and been able to destroy several tanks, how many we don't know. but at least four according to multiple sources inside syria . it is a different dynamic and it's unclear and if this is really a tipping point people are now starting to take wagers on how long the government in syria will last. according to who we've been speaking to they think weeks to month but it's hard to know.

    >> the arab league had second thoughts and offered to send military and diplomatic observers to syria to give them a second chance to comply. i don't know where that stands right now and whether there's any indication that the asatd re rejet stream r rejet strer rejet strer regeem is going to work with --

    >> in you remember libya, gadhafi said, of course libya is abiding by the cease fire and we accept the terms of the cease fire and on the ground people were being shot and the libyan army was attacking. syria is taking a similar position, maintaining that it wants the arab league peace initiative and that it is abiding about the peace initiative. state television is broadcasting to the syrian people that the troops are being pulled back from syrian cities but that's not the case. the syrian military is still continuing to carry out offensive operations and now sometimes defensive operations as this free syrian army is going on the offensive.

    >> it just seems as though -- tofr the arab league suspending syria , which has been such a major player in the arab league all of these years and to have them having second thoughts about taking that tough stance and assad, you don't know whether he's cornered or this thing will end up being civil war . richard engel , extraordinary story.

    >> go ahead.

    >> reporter: there are deep concerns about the civil -- possibility of a real civil other sectarian war in this area. maybe even exacerbating them, but you have to look at the dynamic in syria . you have a shiite government, only maybe 10 to 15% of the population being members of the shiite community and almost all of the opposition forces are members of the sunni majority. it's the exact flip side of what we saw in iraq, where you had a sunni government and shiite society. there are deep concerns. if the regime goes and it goes suddenly, what will replace it.

    >> richard engel , thank you very much. thanks for the report

Data: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests

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