Syria protests
People gather at Clock Square during a demonstration in the centre of the Syrian city of Homs April 18, 2011. Syrian forces fired shots at hundreds of protesters who had gathered overnight in Homs city in defiance of warning by the authorities to halt what they called an insurrection, a rights campaigner said on Tuesday. A member of the security police addressed the protesters at Clock Square through a loud speaker asking them to leave, and then the forces opened fire, said the human rights campaigner, who is in contact with protesters in the square. REUTERS/Handout

Despite its brutal crackdown on protesters and international calls to step down, the Syrian regime remains defiant, with the foreign minister Sunday threatening "tough measures" against any country that recognizes the newly formed opposition council.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem issued his warning as government forces reportedly killed at least 13 more people protesting President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Last month, Syrian opposition leaders announced the creation of a Syrian National Council, modelled on the Libyan National Transitional Council, but the Syrian government was quick to warn the international community against officially recognizing the new opposition apparatus, with Mouallem calling the group "illegitimate."

Mouallem, who spoke alongside a group of left-leaning Latin American ministers visiting Damascus to show support for Assad, also dismissed Turkish criticism of Assad's crackdown and said a Western military action in Syria should be ruled out immediately.

"The West will not attack Syria because no one will pay the bill," he said. "The West chose economic sanctions to starve our people, under the pretext of protecting human rights."

"We will take tough measures against any state which recognizes this illegitimate council," he added. "Syria's hands are not tied. Whoever throws a rose at it, it will throw a rose back."

The formation of the opposition council has been welcomed by several members of the international community, including the United States and France, but no state has granted it formal diplomatic recognition.

Mouallem's warning came as the council was scheduled to hold two meetings Sunday in Cairo and Stockholm. Assad's government had until now dismissed both sanctions and international calls on the president to step down but the new move shows officials seem to be concerned the SNC could drum up significant international support .

Despite months of protests and a rising death toll, the U.N. Security Council has remained divided over what steps to take regarding Syria. The NATO Libyan mission has been widely criticised by both Russia and China, which have warned they would veto any resolution that could lead to a potential mission in Syria.

Meanwhile violence continued across the country as the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that security forces shot seven people to death in the central city of Homs and three more in rural areas around Hama.

According to other reports, government troops fire on a funeral procession in the Damascus suburb of Dumeir, killing another three people.

The death of Kurdish opposition leader Mashaal Tammo, who was killed by an unidentified gunman at his home Friday, has also led to increased tensions between the Assad regime and the Kurdish community in Syria but also in Turkey, where protesters organised demonstrations Sunday.

Tammo was a founding member of the Kurdish Future Party and a member of the Syrian National Council, so his death is also set to be a blow to the new group.

Syrian troops also reportedly killed five people Saturday as they fired live ammunition into a crowd of 50,000 mourners attending Tammo's funeral in the town of Qamishli.

The event turned into an anti-regime rally after mourners called on Assad to step down, chanting
"leave, leave," whilst also reportedly defiantly toppling a statue of Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad.

Rallies were also organised in several other towns, according to activists.

The death of Tammo also angered Turkey, as the government condemned the "heinous assassination"

Turkish officials also criticized the reported assault on another prominent opposition figure, former legislator Riad Seif, and Ankara appeared to blame Syrian authorities for both attacks.

Tensions between Turkey and Syria have escalated since the beginning of the protests and Ankara, once a close ally of Assad, has hosted several meetings of the opposition National Council.

Turkey has also has also given shelter to thousands of Syrian refugees, and has welcomed defectors from the Syrian army.

Also, CNN Turk channel said that Sunday, following increasing tension, Syrian police were stopping Turkish citizens from entering Syria at the border town of Nusaybin, a few kilometres north of Qamishli, where Tammo was killed.

After months of peaceful protests, Assad introduced new reforms including the end of emergency rule and pledged multi-party parliamentary elections next year. But the brutal crackdown and the rising death toll has led opponents to call the moves meaningless.

But after seven months, protesters have failed to dislodge Assad, and only defections within the army, reportedly rising, seem capable of posing a real threat.

The United Nations human rights office says more than 2,900 people have died in Syria's unrest. The government blames armed groups backed by foreign powers and says 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed.