A 10-month-old revolt against President Bashar Al Assad edged closer to the Syrian capital on Thursday as troops battled rebels in a town just north of Damascus and a provincial governor spoke of negotiating local ceasefires.
A Syrian officer told Reuters clashes had been under way in Douma since the morning. Security forces were searching houses for arms and wanted suspects. Reporters were shown home-made grenades among other seized weapons.
The officer was speaking in the tense suburb of Harasta nearby, where troops were deployed in strength.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces had detained 200 people in raids in Douma, a hotbed of protests and armed rebellion against Assad.
Gunfire was close enough to be heard from central Damascus during the night.
"Many of them (in the opposition) have been misled. They will eventually come back to the right way," Hussein Makhlouf, governor of Damascus countryside, told Arab League monitors before they headed for some of the capital's troubled suburbs.
"We have started a dialogue with them, including some armed groups that are controlling positions there," Makhlouf said.
He told the observers that the authorities were using "the same approach as in Zabadani, so the same scenario will happen".
This month the military withdrew armoured vehicles encircling the rebel-held town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, after negotiating a truce with its defenders.
Arab observers stopped at an entrance to the Damascus suburb of Irbin, where a dozen soldiers stood guard. Beyond them a crowd of about 100 anti-Assad protesters shouted slogans. The troops showed the monitors the bodies of a soldier and another person they said had been killed in the morning.
The Arab observers soon drove away from the scene without going into the township.
There was no immediate word on casualties in the fighting near Damascus.
Elsewhere, three people were killed in Homs, a sniper killed a 58-year-old woman in Hama and a 14-year-old boy was killed in the southern city of Deraa, the British-based Observatory said.
The state news agency Sana said "terrorists" had assassinated a colonel in Homs and detonated a bomb in Deraa province, killing an army lieutenant as he tried to defuse it.
Sana said 21 soldiers, security personnel and civilians killed by "armed terrorist groups" were buried on Thursday.