By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press

BEIRUT -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria on Thursday to stop its attacks, saying the U.N. observers monitoring the cease-fire were not there to watch the killing of innocent people. The warning came as activists reported that Syrian troops again shelled the country's central region of Houla where more than 100 people were massacred last week.

The latest shelling and sniper fire killed at least one person and made scores flee in fear of more government attacks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups said government troops unleashed heavy machine guns but also used mortars Thursday in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages in the central Homs province. Both groups said a young man was killed by sniper fire.

Survivors of the Houla massacre have blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of carnage that began Friday and left 108 people dead, many of them children and women. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed "armed terrorists."

Activists from Houla said government forces last Friday first shelled the area after large demonstrations against the regime earlier in the day. That evening, they said, pro-regime fighters known as shabiha stormed the villages, gunning down men in the streets and stabbing women and children in their homes.

The Houla massacre was one of the deadliest incidents since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime started in March last year. The U.N. said several weeks ago that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the past 15 months while activists put the number at about 13,000.

The Observatory reported that Houla residents were fleeing Thursday to nearby towns and villages "fearing a new massacre."

Speaking in Istanbul, Ban said that "the massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war - a civil war from which the country would never recover." He added that a united international community demands that the Syrian government act on its responsibilities to its people.

"We are there to record violations and to speak out so that the perpetrators of crimes may be held to account," Ban told a summit of the Alliance of Civilizations, a forum promoting understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.

"The more the international community knows," Ban said, "the more likely it is that we can advance on our most important goal: to help find a political solution, a solution that safeguards the lives and interests of all the Syrian people."

"Let me state plainly, however: The U.N. did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents," he said. "We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities."

Nearly 300 U.N. observers have been deployed around Syria to monitor a cease fire that went into effect on April 12, as part of a peace plan negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan. Despite the cease fire, violence continued almost daily.

In the wake of last week's massacre, the United States, Western and Asian nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest.

In Denmark, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that every day of slaughter in Syria is strengthening the case for tougher international action. However, she stressed that military intervention would need international support, including from Syrian ally Russia.

Speaking to Danish university students, Clinton noted that U.N. and international backing made possible last year's international coalition against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya but that Russia and China are standing in the way of similar action in Syria. She also suggested that a military effort against Assad's regime would be far more difficult.

Asked when the U.S. might opt for a military option, Clinton said, "Every day that goes by makes the argument for it stronger," even if Moscow in particular remained unconvinced. She said Washington would continue pressing its case to Russia, which has promised to block any moves at the United Nations to obtain a military mandate for intervention.

Meanwhile, a group of army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army warned the Syrian government on Thursday that if it does not abide by Annan's plan by ceasing fire and pulling out troops from residential areas by Friday noon, the group will defend the people.

"After that, the Free Syrian Army will not abide by the Annan plan ... and will defend the civilians," said Col. Qassim Salaheddine in a statement posted on YouTube. Salaheddine identified himself as the FSA commander in Homs province.

Although the FSA claims that it has so far been abiding by Annan's plan, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said gunmen have violated the cease-fire more than 3,500 times. There have been clashes over the past weeks between troops and army defectors in different areas around Syria.

Also Thursday, Syria's state-run TV said 500 people who had gotten involved in recent events in Syria were released from detention. It gave no further details.

In Damascus, the Syria International Islamic Bank, or SIIB, criticized the latest sanctions imposed Wednesday by the Obama administration as "irrational and unjustified."

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that SIIB has been acting as a front for other Syrian financial institutions seeking to circumvent sanctions. The new penalties will prohibit the bank from engaging in financial transactions in the U.S. and will freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction.

SIIB said it would undertake all necessary measures toward the U.S. decision, saying it has no assets or accounts in the United States. It added that the bank, like other Syrian banks, halted all banking operations with the dollar since U.S. sanctions were first imposed on Syria.

With Washington unwilling at this point to pursue military options in Syria, the U.S. has relied heavily on economic sanctions as a means for pressing Assad to leave power. The United States will host other nations in Washington next week to look at ways to tighten international sanctions further.

World powers share a belief that Syria could descend into civil war and plan to map out possible ways to avoid such a disaster for the region, a deputy for Annan said Wednesday. Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters after privately briefing the U.N. Security Council, the world body's most powerful unit, that diplomats are deeply troubled by Syria's cycle of violence.

Earlier Wednesday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned the West about military intervention in Syria along the lines of NATO's campaign that helped ouster Moammar Gadhafi after the alliance backed the rebel movement in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

"Creating another Benghazi in Syria will impact Palestine and the ashes of this fire will cover the Zionist regime, definitely," he said using the phrase commonly used by Iranian officials to refer to Israel.

___

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.

WARNING: PHOTOS CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT.
Loading Slideshow...
  • This frame grab made from an amateur video provided by Syrian activists on Monday, May 28, 2012, purports to show the massacre in Houla on May 25. (AP Photo/Amateur Video via AP video)

  • This frame grab made from an amateur video provided by Syrian activists on Monday, May 28, 2012, purports to show the massacre in Houla on May 25. (AP Photo/Amateur Video via AP video)

  • This frame grab made from an amateur video provided by Syrian activists on Monday, May 28, 2012, purports to show the massacre in Houla on May 25. (AP Photo/Amateur Video via AP video)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012 purports to show shrouded dead bodies following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show a dead child following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show a dead child following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show shrouded dead bodies following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show the bodies of a man and a girl on the hood of a United Nations observer vehicle following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show a dead child following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network taken Saturday, May 26, 2012, purports to show dead bodies following a Syrian government assault on Houla, Syria. (AP Photo)

  • This image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network and accessed Saturday, May 26, 2012 purports to show an injured child in Houla, Syria. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)



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syria car bomb Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)


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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.

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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.

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The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

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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.

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syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded 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. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)


syria 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)


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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.

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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

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@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS

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@ Reuters : At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists http://t.co/FG3fJwu8

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