BEIRUT, Lebanon — The head of the Arab League warned Friday that Syria may be sliding toward civil war, as security forces fired on thousands of people who poured into the streets in support of army defectors who switched sides to try to topple President Bashar Assad. At least 10 people were killed, activists said.
During the 10-month-old uprising, much of the bloodshed has been from security forces firing on unarmed protesters. But in recent months breakaway soldiers have been attacking the Syrian military, and some opposition members have taken up arms against the regime, adding to the violence.
The Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, told the Associated Press that Assad's regime was either not complying or only partially complying with a league plan that Syria signed last month to end its crackdown.
"If this continues, it may turn into civil war," he said in Cairo, where the league is based.
The United Nations estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called the bloodshed appalling and urged the Russian government to reconsider its stance in support of "someone who has turned into such an appalling dictator."
Russia, a traditional Syrian ally, has blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad's regime and threatening sanctions.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 20,000 people demonstrated Friday in the northwestern province of Idlib. Security forces fired on protesters there as well as in the southern province of Daraa, the eastern region of Deir el-Zour and the central province of Homs, all centers of frequent protests.