By Oliver Holmes and Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT, March 12 (Reuters) - Dozens of civilians were killed in cold blood in the Syrian city of Homs, opposition activists and Syrian state media said on Monday, although they disputed responsibility for what both sides called a massacre.
The carnage in Homs, as well as a military assault on the northwestern city of Idlib, coincided with a weekend peace mission by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who left Damascus on Sunday without agreement on a truce or humanitarian access.
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"The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in the city of Homs, central Syria, killed, and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets," state news agency SANA said on its website.
Footage posted by opposition activists on YouTube showed men, women and children lying dead in a blood-drenched room.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a grassroots opposition network, said at least 45 women and children had been stabbed and burned in the Homs district of Karm al-Zeitoun.
It said another seven people were slain in the city's Jobar district, which adjoins the former rebel bastion of Baba Amr.
Activists contacted in Homs accused Alawite "shabbiha" militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the killings under the protection of regular Syrian military forces.
Waleed Fares, an activist in Homs's Khalidiyah district, which is about one km from Karm al-Zeitoun, said that 30 to 40 tanks had arrived in Karm al-Zeitoun on Sunday night.
"We know now that four families have been killed by shabbiha. We have 21 names and we are trying to confirm the names of the rest," he told Reuters via Skype, adding that the victims were all from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.
"It's quiet now but I have been hearing gunfire all night."
Fares said most of the killings occurred in Karm al-Zeitoun, but some took place in other districts. "The Free Syrian army helped move the bodies to one place. Otherwise the regime forces would have hidden the evidence," he said.
Syrian government restrictions on the media have made it hard to assess conflicting reports by the authorities and their opponents since an uprising against Assad began a year ago.
SANA said the Homs killings "perpetrated by the armed terrorist groups and aired by (satellite TV channels) Al Jazeera and Arabiya ... coincide with today's U.N. Security Council session to call for foreign interference in Syria".
In the southern city of Deraa, scene of sporadic street fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and Assad's troops, a car bomb killed a schoolgirl and wounded 25 others at a girls' school. An opposition activist said members of the school had taken part in anti-Assad demonstrations.
U.N. MEETS ON ARAB REVOLTS
The Security Council holds a special meeting on Arab revolts later on Monday and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines.
Russia and China have blocked attempts to pass a Security Council resolution condemning Damascus for its attempts to crush the rebellion, in which the United Nations says well over 7,500 people have been killed. Syrian authorities said in December insurgents had killed over 2,000 soldiers and police.
The United States has drafted a new resolution, but Washington and Paris say they doubt it will be accepted.
China sounded an optimistic note, but gave no details.
"China has actively participated in discussion about this draft resolution, and raised its ideas about revising it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Monday.
"We also support the international community playing an active role in a political solution to the Syria issue."
China and Russia, as well as Western and Arab nations, have voiced support for Annan's peace mission, but no common ground has emerged between Assad, who is bent on crushing dissent, and his opponents, who are determined to overthrow him.
"The situation is so bad and so dangerous that all of us cannot afford to fail," Annan said in Damascus on Sunday.
A U.N. spokesman said the former U.N. chief had met the emir and prime minister of Qatar in Doha on Monday and was heading for Ankara for talks with Turkey's prime minister and foreign minister.
Annan has said he wants a ceasefire and access for humanitarian aid agencies to civilians in strife-hit areas as a first step before a political dialogue among all parties.
Moscow and Beijing want any international blame for the violence to be apportioned evenly and say both sides should be encouraged to stop fighting. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have taken a hawkish line, calling for the rebels to be armed.
"The regime in Syria is committing a massacre of its own citizens," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on Sunday after talks with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.
Westerwelle said in Riyadh: "We cannot accept the completely unreasonable continuation of the atrocities being perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own people."
Western and Arab countries have sought to isolate Assad, but he has a few allies, notably Iran, which has invited Iraq, Lebanon and Syria to a conference in Tehran on March 18 to "support the Syrian regime against its opponents", the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper reported on Monday.
Citing ministerial sources, it said "official Lebanon" had declined the invitation. Lebanon, deeply split over the crisis in its powerful neighbour, has sought to avoid taking sides. (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Elizabeth Piper)
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U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|