The UN Security Council meets to discuss the massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in Houla as international condemnation grows.
The head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Sunday that at least 116 people were killed and 300 injured in a massacre in the town of Houla.
General Robert Mood, head of the UN observer mission in Syria, was speaking at the closed-door meeting via video link from Damascus.
On Sunday the Syrian authorities denied carrying out the massacre. Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said: “Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army.”
Activists said forces loyal to the regime were responsible for mortar fire that hit the area after demonstrations on Friday.
Later that evening, they said, pro-regime militia fighters known as shabiha stormed villages, gunning down men in the streets and stabbing women and children in their homes.
Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army. Jihad Makdesi
UN observers, among more than 250 who were dispatched in recent weeks to salvage the ceasefire plan, found spent artillery tank shells at the site Saturday. UN officials confirmed the shells were fired at residential neighbourhoods.
The Houla villages are Sunni Muslim, while the Shabiha came from an arc of nearby villages populated by Alawites, members of the Shia faction to which Assad belongs.
Alex Thomson reports exclusively from Houla in this blog post.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, flew to Moscow to discuss the situation with the Russian government, a key ally of the Assad regime.
Mr Hague said: “It is a familiar tactic of the Assad regime to blame others for what is happening in their country, to try to get out of responsibility for the scale of death and destruction.
“We are absolutely sickened in the British Government and across the international community by what we’ve seen over the last couple of days.”
Mr Hague is expected to ask Russia will increase the pressure on Syria to implement the ceasefire plan put together by the UN and Arab League’s Syria envoy Kofi Annan.
The Foreign Secretary said Britain would argue “for a stronger response from the world” if the UN peace plan failed, adding: “Time is running out for the Assad regime to adopt that plan, implement that plan and stop the torture, abuse and murder of their own people.”
A senior Russian diplomat said on Sunday the massacre of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla “deserves condemnation” but that it was too early to say who was to blame.