Russia has been urged by France to harden its stance on Syria and support UN sanctions, after a recent draft Security Council resolution met stiff resistance.
At a meeting in Moscow, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé accused the Syrian regime of committing “crimes against humanity” with its repression.
Amid reports of more bloodshed as Syrian forces targeted protesters in Homs and other cities, Damascus has put off a planned visit by the head of the Arab League until Saturday.
Nabil Elaraby had been due in the country on Wednesday. Arab governments broke months of silence about Syria at a meeting of the League in Cairo last week, demanding an end to the violence.
A diplomatic source said Damascus refused the visit after Elaraby met Syrian opposition members, although such meetings have not been confirmed.
A UK-based human rights group says a vast security operation has taken place in Homs, with nine people shot dead as tanks were used to crush protests. The crackdown in the region has intensified, while in the south several injuries have been reported in another security operation.
Meanwhile Damascus has admitted that the protest movement has hit the country’s economy. Syrian Finance Minister Mohamed Jleilati predicted growth would fall from 5.5 per cent to “between 1 and 2 per cent” this year, and that EU sanctions would have an impact. Last week the European Union banned imports of Syrian oil.