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17 reported dead in Syria clashes

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed October 26, 2011
  • NEW: Syrian forces accused of using nail bombs on peaceful demonstrators
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with other regional leaders at an Arab League Ministers meeting

(CNN) -- Seventeen people were reported dead in Syria Wednesday as a result of continued clashes between government and opposition forces, a leading opposition group said.

The death toll included two children in the city of Homs, and a child in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria announced.

The latest violence occurred as opposition leaders called for a nationwide general strike, and embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad huddled in Damascus with other regional leaders at an Arab League Ministers meeting. The meeting "was honest and friendly," and the group "felt that the Syrian government wants to work ... to reach a solution," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani said, according to Syrian state television.

"President Assad did not accept all the initiatives submitted to him, but he did not reject our points and requests," said Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed bin Heli. "Our main concern is to stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people." The delegation of Arab foreign ministers will resume talks with Syrian officials on October 30, he said.

A large pro-government rally, meanwhile, was held in downtown Damascus, state television reported.

The political upheaval came a day after Amnesty International issued a report accusing the Syrian government of torturing wounded protesters at state-run hospitals, saying the country's authorities have turned medical facilities and their staffs into "instruments of repression."

The London-based human rights group called the alleged siege at government hospitals a new, troubling trend in efforts by the country's security forces to crack down on protests against al-Assad's regime, which have been going on for eight months.

A London-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported the use by Syrian forces of nail bombs, which are prohibited under international law. The weapons have been used against peaceful protesters in different areas of Damascus suburbs , especially in Doma, Saqba, Ittel, and Misraba, the organization said. Links to YouTube videos purported to show the pierced flesh on the backs and arms of wounded protesters. CNN, which has not been able to report from inside the country, was not able to determine the videos' authenticity.

The Observatory called on the international community to intervene as it did in Libya.

On Monday, the United States temporarily pulled its ambassador out of Syria as a "result of credible threats against his personal safety," according to a State Department spokesman, who accused Syria of "incitement" against the ambassador.

"At this point, we can't say when (Ambassador Robert Ford) will return to Syria," Mark Toner said in a statement.

Soon after, Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, was recalled to Damascus "for consultations," embassy spokeswoman Roua Shurbaji said.

Relations between Syria and the United States have been tense in recent months as the Syrian government's crackdown has intensified. At least 3,000 people have died so far, the United Nations and other international observers estimate.

CNN's Pierre Meilhan, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report

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