Syrian forces on Monday killed at least 16 people — including children — in a rebel stronghold recaptured by the government in the embattled city of Homs.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed Sunday night, while the Local Coordination Committees said 45 were "murdered." Both groups said children were among the dead.
State media in Damascus, which often ignores human rights activists' claims, confirmed killings in Homs but blamed "armed terrorists" as it frequently calls those behind the uprising.
Government restrictions on media access have made it hard to assess conflicting reports by the authorities and activists of the mass killing reported on Monday.
A medical worker in Homs working in the rebel-held neighborhood of Khalidiya told the Khadeej Times many of the victims were killed with knives, and some of the women appeared to have been raped.
“We received the bodies in two batches ... we tried to go to see if there were any survivors but they were all dead,” said the medical worker, who called himself Yazan.
“I saw two females who were raped, one was around 12 or 13 years old. She was covered in blood and her underclothes were off. One of the women was strangled; she had bruises on her neck. Some of the bodies I saw, especially the children, had their throats slit.”
Syrian forces retook rebel-held districts in Homs on March 1 after a 26-day siege that saw continuous sniper and artillery fire, claiming at least 700 civilian lives.
In the aftermath, government forces refused to admit foreign aid workers for a week citing "security concerns." However, reports and videos emerged indicating the government was conducting "mop up operations," that included rape, torture, and summary executions.
UN foreign aid chief Valerie Amos was allowed a brief visit to Homs with aid workers from the Red Crescent, but reports of atrocities have again begun to emerge.
United Nations investigators on Monday said Syria subjected civilians to “collective punishment” and that its forces stand accused of carrying out executions and mass arrests in Homs.
“The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in Homs, killed and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets,” state news agency SANA said.
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, near the former rebel bastion of Baba Amr.
Activists contacted in Homs accused pro-Assad “shabbiha” militiamen of carrying out the killings
Several Homs neighborhoods, including Karm el-Zeytoun where Sunday's deaths occurred, were controlled by rebels and retaken by government forces after a month of shelling that killed at least 700, earlier this month.
The reports add to the pressure on UN Security Council members who are meeting to decide what to do next to stop the violence.
A peacemaking mission by UN envoy Kofi Annan faltered before it began with both government and opposition representatives refusing to talk to one another.
“There are grave and appalling reports of atrocities and abuses (in Syria),” Annan told reporters. “Killings of civilians must end now. The world must send a clear and united message that this is simply unacceptable.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria's president on Monday to take swift action to end the bloody crackdown. He spoke at a meeting Monday of ministers from the 15 council nations that make up the Security Council.
The UN head appealed to the divided council — Russia and China have adamantly opposed outside intervention — to speak with one voice and help Syria "pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe."
President Bashar al-Assad's year-long crackdown on anti-regime protesters calling for his ouster has claimed no fewer than 7,500 civilian lives, UN Human Rights officials say.
Local human rights activists place the number closer to 9,000.