Kofi Annan, Syria, 05.28.12
Kofi Annan, Syria, 05.28.12Reuters

International envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Syria on Monday amid growing fury over a gruesome massacre that killed 108 people in one town on Friday.

He vowed "serious" discussions with President Bashar al-Assad and said he had a message for "everyone with a gun" - to halt the violence.

Meanwhile,  Syrian activists said on Monday that Assad's forces had killed at least 41 more people, including eight children, in an artillery assault on the city of Hama over the past 24 hours.

The report - which could not be independently verified - came after the UN Security Council condemned the massacre of at least 108 civilians, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Houla on Friday.

Rebel leaders have said Annan's six-point plan is already "dead" following the killings in Houla, a suburb of the anti-government bastion of Homs. UN monitors in Syria said 49 children were among those slaughtered there Friday.

Al-Assad's regime insists it was not behind the massacre and blames terrorist groups. Throughout the uprising against the government, Syria has blamed violence on "armed terrorist groups."

But throughout Syria, people pointed fingers at the government - and UN officials have openly accused the Assad government of perpetrating war crimes.

UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay went on record in March saying the Syrian army’s use of heavy weapons against civilians in densely populated areas was a crime under international law - adding President Bashar al-Assad was directly responsible.

"Factually, there’s enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces, (and) must have received approval or the complicity at the highest level,” Pillay said at the time.

“There is no statute of limitations so people like him can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice,” she added, referring to Assad.

Her comments came as the Assad government not only ramped up shelling of civilian areas known to be dissident and rebel strongholds earlier this year – but as reports of mop-up operations by Assad's forces that included the systemic rape, torture, and mass execution of local residents – began to circulate as well.

In addition, the Assad government has been accused of targeting foreign journalists - and even UN observer troops - who have allegedly seen atrocities in conflict zones.

Later Monday, Annan will meet with al-Assad and senior officials, as well as representatives of the opposition. He will review the work of the UN monitoring mission in the country as well.

"I have come to Syria at a critical moment in this crisis," Annan said, according to his spokesman. "I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla two days ago, which took so many innocent lives, children, women and men. This was an appalling crime, and the Security Council has rightly condemned it."

Even if Assad falls from power, “There will be new generals and there will be new gangs," Israeli expert Dr. Guy Bechor told Army Radio on Monday. 

“Whoever loses in the struggle in Syria will be slaughtered, and therefore no one can afford to try to take over the regime,” he said.

UN officials say at least 9,100 have been killed in Assad’s brutal crackdown, but admit they stopped counting months ago due to the chaos pervading the country. Local activists say more than 12,000 have been killed – most of them civilians – with at least 1,000 having been killed since the theoretical April ceasefire date passed.

Observers Document Mass Burial in Hama 05.28.11 Reuters