Activists: More than 50 massacred in Syria

Last Updated 2:06 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - Syrian activists said Monday that pro-government gunmen have killed scores of people, including children, in a rebel stronghold recaptured by the government in the embattled central city of Homs.

CBS News' Khaled Wassef reports that, according to activists, 52 bodies were found at an unspecified number of locations in the Karm al-Zaitoun and Adaweya neighborhoods of Homs. Almost all were women and children.

The state media in Damascus, which often ignores claims by activists, confirmed some killings in Homs, but blamed "armed terrorists" as it frequently calls those behind the uprising.

Syria's state-run media quoted an unnamed official as saying that armed groups in some areas in Homs are kidnapping people, then killing and disfiguring them in order to bring international condemnation to the regime.

Fresh from stamping out rebel centers of resistance in Homs, government forces are pressing on with new offensives in other parts of central and northern Syria. The reports of the killings add to concerns that the hundreds of civilian deaths caused by the fighting will be compounded by reprisals against opposition supporters in the recaptured towns and neighborhoods.

They will add to the pressure on U.N. Security Council members who are meeting to decide what to do next to stop the violence, as the international community's current ongoing effort — a peacemaking mission by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan — falters with both government and opposition refusing to talk to one another.

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Activists accused gunmen known as "shabiha," who have been playing a major role in crushing the year-old uprising, for the recent attacks.

As described by Ahed Al Hendi of the Council on Foreign Relations, Shabiha is an armed militia (headed by Assad's first cousins) who partake in violence upon civilians, acting as strong-arm enforcers of the Assad regime.

According to activists, the victims were seized by the Army, then handed over to the Shabiha. They were killed in separate groups at different locations.

Activists said some bodies were found with their throats slit or bearing stab wounds. Others were shot, then burned. The bodies were discovered by Army defectors from the Syrian Free Army.

A doctor who inspected the bodies at the local morgue of Bab al-Sbaa told Al-Jazeera that some of the women were raped before being shot, and one of them was actually pregnant.

A YouTube video showed the wounds of a man who purportedly survived the massacre in Karm al-Zaitoun.

He said, "Shabiha killed us. They placed us in a room, and after two hours of killing spree, they poured fuel onto us ... covered us with fabric. They then started shooting us. There were 30 or 40 of them. They set fire to the house. When I saw that the lights were out, I got up despite my wounds ... and walked away."

Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, is trying to confirm activists' claims that eight of those killed in Karm el-Zeytoun were Palestinians.

In another YouTube posting the videographer indentifies many of the dead whose bodies were reportedly found in Karm el-Zeytoun.

Homs is the Syrian city hardest hit by violence since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year. Several areas of Homs, including Karm el-Zeytoun where Sunday's deaths occurred, were controlled by rebels and retaken by government forces earlier this month.

Karm el-Zeytoun has witnessed intense anti-regime protests in the past months. It is one of several neighborhoods in Homs that have large populations both of Alawites — a Shiite offshoot that dominates the Damascus regime — and of Sunnis — who make up much of the opposition against it.

The Observatory said that after the killings, many people fled Karm el-Zeytoun as well as the nearby neighborhoods of Bab Dreb and Nazihin, for fear pro-government gunmen might carry out similar attacks.

Pictures posted online by activists showed the bodies of five children who were disfigured after being apparently hit with sharp objects. At least six dead adults were covered with sheets.

An amateur video posted online showed men wrapping the bodies of the dead with white cloth in accordance with Muslim tradition before burial.

"This is what they do to us, the Sunnis. The Sunnis are being wiped out, they are the ones who are dying at the hands of Iran and the Shiites," shouted a man in the background. Shiite Iran is one of the Assad regime's few remaining allies.

"We tell Bashar that your punishment will be harsh," the man shouted. The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

The Observatory called on the United Nations to form an independent investigative committee to find "those committing massacres and have them face justice."

"The regime aims to terrify people and put down the revolution," said Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso, who also blamed the shabiha for the attack.

He says new protests broke out in several areas around the country to condemn the latest killings in Homs.

The LCC called for a day of mourning Tuesday and urged Syrians to close their shops and abstain from going to work, schools and universities. The group urged citizens to carry black ribbons and flags and wear black shirts in sign of mourning.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

The United States and Russia clashed over Syria at the U.N. Monday after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the divided Security Council to speak with one voice and help the Mideast nation "pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (left) rejected any equivalence between the "premeditated murders" carried by President Bashar Assad's "military machine" and the civilians under siege driven to self-defense.

"We expect all nations, including Russia and China, to join us now in pressing the Assad regime to silence its guns, to allow humanitarian aid to enter, and to make way for a real political transition," Clinton said. "I pointed out my very strong view that the alternative to our unity on these points will be bloody, internal conflict with dangerous consequences for the whole region. So our message is clear, it is past time for action."

U.S. and Russia clash over Syria at U.N.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Syrian authorities "bear a huge share of responsibility" but insisted opposition fighters and extremists including al Qaeda are also committing violent and terrorist acts.

An international push to end Syria's conflict has stalled as U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus on Sunday without a cease-fire deal.

Western and Arab powers are struggling for ways to stem the bloodshed in the year-old conflict while both the regime and the opposition reject dialogue. Annan appeared to make little progress during two meetings with Assad during his first trip to Syria as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy.

Annan was seeking an immediate cease-fire to allow for humanitarian aid and the start of a dialogue between all parties on a political solution. After meeting with Assad on Sunday, Annan said he had presented steps to ease the crisis, but gave no details.

Also Monday, SANA reported that an "armed terrorist group" blew up a pipeline that transports diesel from the central province of Homs to the nearby region of Hama, setting it on fire.

There have been several fires and explosions cutting oil and gas pipelines since the uprising began. Damascus blames them on armed groups, but the opposition says they are caused by government shelling.

In the northeastern city of Qamishli, hundreds of Kurds marched to mark the eighth anniversary of clashes between Syrian Kurds and security forces that began in the city then spread to the nearby cities of Hasaka and Aleppo. The 2004 violence left 25 killed and 100 wounded.

Kurds — the largest ethnic minority in Syria — make up 15 percent of the country's 23 million people and have long complained of neglect and discrimination. However, since the uprising began they have not taken a major role in anti-Assad activities.

The gathering in Qamishli observed a moment of silence to protest the killings of civilians in Homs, said Osso, who spoke from the area.