- Six people are killed in the first few hours of Friday, an activist group reports
- Witness reports eight straight hours of gunfire, bombs into the night in Homs
- Iran's president warns Arab states not to ally with "Western governments"
- The United Nations and activists say thousands have died in regime crackdown
The U.N. Security Council will hold closed-door talks Friday afternoon on the situation in Syria, the British and French delegations reported Thursday night on their respective Twitter feeds.
The discussion -- set to start at 3 p.m. -- comes as members weigh a draft U.N. resolution on Syria, obtained by CNN this week, that calls on "all states" to take steps similar to Arab League sanctions imposed in November.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby and Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, will travel to New York for talks with the United Nations on Monday, an Arab League official said Thursday. They will meet with the Security Council during the visit, said the official, who cannot be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The 22-member Arab League has called on al-Assad's regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders -- including the international news media -- to travel freely in Syria. On Wednesday, Syria's government agreed to a one-month extension of the league's monitoring mission there.
The United Nations last month estimated that more than 5,000 people have died since March. The Local Coordination Committees said Tuesday more than 6,600 deaths have been documented since the unrest began. Avaaz, a global political activist group, said the death toll has exceeded 7,000.
The discussions at the U.N. headquarters in New York come as the violence continues in Syria, particularly in the city of Homs.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, said 32 people were killed Thursday in Homs, one of the biggest flashpoints of the 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. This is out of a total of 65 deaths nationwide.
By 3:30 a.m. Friday, the same group reported that six more people had been killed in that day's first few hours around Syria -- three of them in Homs.
Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamado, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, which is made up of soldiers who have joined the opposition, said late Thursday that "many families and civilians have died" in the Syrian government attacks.
"The Syrian army is bombarding Homs heavily and indiscriminately with mortars, artillery and rockets," he said.
He said commanders of the pro-government troops have said they will call off the assault, if the defectors surrender and demonstrations against al-Assad end.
"We don't call this negotiation -- more like arm-bending," Hamado said. "We have rejected their gibberish completely."
Eight of the defectors were among the dead on Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists. In addition, 23 bodies had been found in Hama, where government troops and pro-Assad militias raided neighborhoods on Wednesday.
Danny, an activist in Homs who is being identified by his first name only for security reasons, said early Friday that bombs, gunfire and rockets had rung out continuously for about eight hours before seemingly halting. He claimed more than 30,000 Syrian soldiers were in Homs, and that the Free Syrian Army wasn't attacking these forces but rather trying to protect civilians.
"They want to stop people from going against the president," Danny said of the Syrian government forces. "Anyone who is against the regime is killed. They consider him a traitor."
The Syrian government blames the ongoing violence in the country on terrorist groups and says security forces are only trying to protect civilians. CNN cannot independently confirm events because the Syrian government restricts access of international media to the country.
But al-Assad faces growing international pressure to end the crackdown as well as questions about whether the Arab League should continue its mission of having monitors in Syria to assess the situation.
The LCC -- which has sharply criticized the mission as ineffective -- said the monitors' presence has done little to hinder the government crackdown.
"The number of the recorded martyrs in Syria since the arrival of the Arab League Observers' committee reached thus far 1,317 martyrs," the group said in a statement Thursday evening.
It said the dead included 30 women, 70 children and 67 people who were tortured to death. The highest toll has been in Homs, where the LCC said 464 people had been killed since the monitors arrived in late December.
The Arab League is working on a proposal for al-Assad to transfer power to his vice president after the formation of a national unity government. The plan calls for the government to start talks with the opposition within two weeks and for the formation of a new government within two months. A new constitutional council would follow as would a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections.
France, in a statement posted on its U.N. delegation's website, said that it "fully supports all aspects of the Arab League plan to resolve the crisis, including the political component of the plan."
However, six nations from the Gulf Cooperation Council withdrew their observers from the monitoring mission this week, citing the continuing bloodshed and the government's "lack of commitment" to the Arab League proposal.
The Gulf states are also calling for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China -- and other council members to ratchet up pressure on the regime. They want the Security Council to support the Arab League's Syrian initiative by passing a resolution.
Russia, a Syrian ally, has been seen as an obstacle in developing a tough U.N. resolution toward al-Assad's regime because it has veto power as a permanent council member.
Another al-Assad supporter, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized what was described as some Arab governments lobbying to fund opposition groups aimed at overthrowing al-Assad, according to a report Thursday by the Iranian state-run news agency IRNA.
"You are serving the western governments to destroy Syria for oil," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the unnamed Arab governments. "But I advise you to stop this play, because after Syria it will be your turn to be destroyed. The greed of imperialism has no end."
Also on Thursday, amateur video surfaced online showing five men who said they were Iranian men who'd been kidnapped in Syria last month. On the video, all five men state their names and show their passports.
One man says they all belong to the Basij, the volunteer paramilitary group allied with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and were sent to Syria to fight terrorists and "tyrants" who were challenging Syrian government forces. No identification from the men, that was shown, indicate they are part of the Basij.
"I plead to you, Mr. Khamenei and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the group and I want to return home to Iran," one man said. "We want to be reunited with our families."
Elsewhere, a large group of Syrian security forces raided the suburb of Douma in Damascus province, early Thursday, days after loyalist forces pulled out after heavy clashes with defectors, according to opposition activists.
Syrian state television reported that mass pro-government rallies were taking place Thursday in Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Latakia. According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, hundreds of thousands of Syrians flocked to the capital to join demonstrations in support of al-Assad's government.
The demonstrators took to the streets "in rejection of the recent decisions by Arab League Council which are but flagrant violation of the Syrian independence and sovereignty," the news agency reported.
Hamado, the spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said there was fighting in several other suburbs of Damascus as well, including Harasta and Arbeen.
"We fear the same thing will happen in these towns (as happened) in Homs, where the security forces will bombard civilians' homes," he said.