The Syrian government has condemned a decision by the Arab League to pull its monitors from the raging civil war zone.
The Arab League said Saturday it had decided to "immediately" suspend its mission to monitor the situation in Syria due to the growing violence, the BBC reported. The decision came less than a week after a vote to extend the mission another month.
Fierce fighting near Damascus centered on several eastern suburbs that had been seized by opposition forces, and which government troops fought to recapture. At least 12 people were killed and 30 others were wounded in the clashes on Saturday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby announced Saturday in a statement, "Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence... it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria."
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad expressed surprise and "regret" in response to the move.
"This will have a negative impact and put pressure on [United Nations Security Council] deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence," a government official said in a statement on state-run Syria TV.
Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman said the fighting near the capital had been the "most intense" since the uprising began in March 2011.
"The Syrian regime is trying to finish the uprising militarily now that the case is being taken to the United Nations," he explained to a BBC reporter.
Russia, however, still opposes a vote on a draft resolution to condemn Damascus, but has said it has done "all it can" for the beleaguered Assad regime.
Arab League monitors are holed up in their hotels in Syria for their own safety, according to the 22-nation body.