Syrian troops bombarded a rebellious suburb of Damascus with tank and artillery shells Friday, killing dozens of people, activists told The Associated Press.
The violence is part of a fierce government offensive aimed at regaining control of parts of Damascus suburbs where rebels operate.
Activists told AP that at least 43 people were killed in more than two days of shelling in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which has been a hotbed of dissent and has put up strong resistance to the Assad regime. The dead included three children and five members of a single family.
A local activist who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons said the shelling was "relentless" throughout Thursday, and exploding shells killed people in their homes.
"They (government troops) are trying to bring Douma under control, but they are being met by fierce resistance," Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AP. He said most of the dead were civilians.
The Local Coordination Committees network said 59 people were killed in Thursday's shelling of Damascus suburbs, most of them in Douma.
Amateur videos posted by activists online showed bloodied bodies lying on blankets in a room and others shrouded in white sheets and placed on stretchers. "A new massacre by Bashar Assad," cried a man holding a dead girl in a pink blouse, a large gash on her face.
The violence around the capital's suburbs mirrored fighting across many parts of Syria that killed dozens of other people Thursday, according to the activist groups.
More than 125 civilians in fighting across the country on Thursday alone were reported by the opposition. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday's toll included more than 60 soldiers.
UN special envoy Kofi Annan said Friday he was "optimistic" that ministerial crisis talks on Syria's conflict being held on Saturday would produce an acceptable outcome.
"I think we are going to have a good meeting tomorrow. I am optimistic," Annan said in Geneva as he arrived for preparatory discussions.
The talks being held by foreign ministers of major powers and regional players in the Swiss city will end "with an acceptable result," he said.
Russia proposed changes to Annan's plan for a national unity government in Syria, despite initially supporting it. However, the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments.
The suggested changes relate to Moscow's refusal to support the ouster of Assad.
Western and Arab diplomats said that the preparatory meeting of senior officials would be key to paving the way to consensus on achieving a political transition in Syria.
Assad on Thursday dismissed the notion of any outside solution to the 16-month-old popular uprising against his rule.
"We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries. No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do," Assad said.
Assad has justified a protracted bloody crackdown on dissidents and rebels saying his government is fighting its own "war on terror."
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)