The online news portal of TV5
BEIRUT - UN observers said on Wednesday 13 bodies had been discovered bound and shot in eastern Syria, days after a massacre of 108 civilians, nearly half of them children, ignited a world outcry.
Outrage at last Friday's mass killings in the Syrian town of Houla, documented by UN monitors, prompted a host of Western countries to step up pressure on Syria on Tuesday by expelling its senior diplomats, and to press Russia and China to allow tougher action by the UN Security Council.
Major-General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the observer mission, said the corpses had been found with their hands tied behind their backs and signs that some had been shot in the head from close range.
"General Mood is deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act," a statement issued by the observer mission said. "He calls on all parties to exercise restraint and end the cycle of violence for the sake of Syria and the Syrian people."
Video footage posted by activists shows the bodies face down on the ground, hands tied behind their backs, with dark pools of what could be blood around their heads and torsos. Mood did not apportion any blame for the killings.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in New York on Tuesday that the Syrian army and "shabbiha" militiamen supporting Assad were "probably" responsible for massacring 108 people in Houla with artillery, tanks, small arms and knives. Syria denied any responsibility and blamed Islamist "terrorists" - its term for rebel forces.
Trying to save his seven-week-old peace plan from collapse, UN-Arab League envoy Annan told Assad in Damascus on Tuesday that Syria was at a tipping point, but there was no let-up in violence, with more than 100 people killed the same day, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Diplomats said the UN Human Rights Council would meet in Geneva on Friday to consider the Houla killings, the fourth such grilling Syria has faced since an anti-Assad revolt erupted in March 2011, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.
Assad has so far proved impervious to international scolding and Western sanctions for his ferocious crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and armed insurgents, and has failed to return troops and tanks to barracks as required by the Annan plan.
But China and Russia have stuck to their rejection of any intervention or UN-backed penalties to force Assad to change course, while backing Annan's peace drive, the only broadly accepted initiative to halt the bloodletting in Syria.
The West is averse to military intervention, although French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that could change if the UN Security Council backed it - something that is not possible unless veto-wielding members Russia and China allow it.
Turkey joined other countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany in expelling Syrian diplomats in protest at the Houla massacre, saying unspecified international "measures" would follow if crimes against humanity continued.
"It is important to find a solution that will lead to a democratic transition in Syria and find a way of ending the killings as soon as possible," he said after talks in Jordan. on Wednesday. "With goodwill and hard work, we can succeed."
"The West should not expect China and Russia's cooperation if it insists on dictating its own values and standards to the world ... It will instead find China and Russia standing in its way," said the Global Times, which is published in Beijing by the Communist Party's People's Daily.
Wary Western governments have so far avoided any direct or indirect military involvement in Syria, whose sectarian-tinged conflict has already sent refugees spilling into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and could further destabilize the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Sui-Lee Wee and Sabrina Mao in Beijing, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, Marcus George in Dubai, Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols in New York and Andrew Quinn in Washington)