The continuing violence in Syria prompted the United States on Friday to warn that it may close its embassy here in the capital unless the Syrian government acts on a request to bolster security around the compound.
American officials said that after several recent car bombings in Damascus, the United States, China and Britain had pressed the Syrians to place concrete barriers around their embassies.
In a statement, the United States State Department said that the Syrian government was “considering the request,” and that no decision had been made about closing the embassy.
The statement came just two days before the Arab League is set to vote on whether to renew its observer mission in Damascus and amid reports by the government and Syrian opposition groups of new episodes of violence on Friday.
The activist group Avaaz, citing witness accounts, said rebel soldiers killed as many as 20 members of the government’s security forces in an ambush in the southern city of Dara’a after opening fire on a security convoy. The report could not be immediately verified.
If confirmed, the episode would underscore the continued inability of an observer mission to curb the violence in Syria, which many people believe is edging ever closer to all-out armed conflict. During the observers’ monthlong stay, which ended Thursday, at least 400 people were killed, according to the United Nations, bringing the death toll since March to at least 5,400 people.
There was other talk of looming disaster on Friday, with many eyes focused on Zabadani, a mountain town near the Lebanese border, where a government pullout of tanks and armored vehicles in recent days has left the town largely under opposition control. Few people, though, said they thought the military retreat was permanent.
An Arab League observer, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said there was also growing concern about the violence in Idlib, where activists said that the bodies of six government opponents who had been killed by security forces were returned to their families.
Members of the observer team and diplomats suggested that the Arab League, lacking better options, would vote to renew the mission during a meeting on Sunday. The Associated Press quoted a league official who took issue with the notion that the mission was failing. The observers, the official said, had helped “break the barrier of fear” especially in and around Damascus.
Despite the persistent violence, the observers’ presence has seemed to embolden antigovernment protesters in recent weeks. Demonstrations continued Friday, though many were smaller than usual, perhaps owing to colder temperatures. Opposition supporters focused on calling for the release of jailed activists, while supporters of President Bashar al-Assad rallied against foreign intervention.
Abu Mustafa, one of hundreds of people who gathered in Qaboun, northeast of Damascus, said dozens of young protesters were being held at an outpost of Air Force Intelligence, a branch of the security services that has played a leading role in the government crackdown. “Someone who demonstrates for half an hour will spend six months in jail,” he said. “This is only in al-Assad’s Syria.”
At a small but energetic rally in Damascus, hundreds of government supporters chanted and cheered, hailing the president as they cursed the Arab League and Syrian opposition leaders.
Beyond the square, though, was a nervous city of army checkpoints and emptier streets, darkened by power failures and short of fuel.
As children around him waved the national flag, a laborer, Mohammed Assaf, said: “I’m expecting the worst. We are 23 million people, and we are prepared for war.”