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Dozens killed in Homs

Dozens of civilians were killed in cold blood in Homs, the Syrian government and opposition said on Monday...

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Dozens of civilians were killed in cold blood in Homs, the Syrian government and opposition said on Monday, although they disputed responsibility for what both sides called a massacre.

The carnage in Homs, as well as an army assault on Idlib city in the northwest, coincided with a weekend visit to Syria by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who was seeking agreement on a ceasefire, humanitarian access and a political dialogue.

"This is the beginning of a process and the joint special envoy feels the process is on the right track," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said from Qatar on Monday.

He said the former United Nations chief, who held two rounds of talks with President Bashar al-Assad, was concerned that violence was raging on, despite the start of his mediation.

The government and opposition each said the other side was to blame for the killings in Homs, where Syrian forces retook a rebel-held district on March 1 after a 26-day siege.

"The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in Homs, killed and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets," state news agency SANA said.

Footage posted by opposition activists on YouTube showed men, women and children lying dead in a blood-drenched room.

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a grassroots opposition network, said at least 45 women and children had been stabbed and burned in the Homs district of Karm al-Zeitoun.

It said another seven people were slain in the city's Jobar district, which adjoins the former rebel bastion of Baba Amr.

Activists contacted in Homs accused pro-Assad Alawite "shabbiha" militiamen of carrying out the killings.

Waleed Fares, an activist in Homs's Khalidiyah district, which is about one km from Karm al-Zeitoun, said that 30 to 40 tanks had arrived in Karm al-Zeitoun on Sunday night.

"We know now that four families have been killed by shabbiha. We have 21 names and we are trying to confirm the names of the rest," he told Reuters via Skype, adding that the victims were all from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

"It's quiet now but I have been hearing gunfire all night."

Fares said most of the killings occurred in Karm al-Zeitoun, but some took place in other districts. "The Free Syrian Army helped move the bodies to one place. Otherwise the regime forces would have hidden the evidence," he said.

Syrian government restrictions on the media have made it hard to assess conflicting reports by the authorities and their opponents since an uprising against Assad began a year ago.

In the rebellious southern city of Deraa, a car bomb planted outside a girls' school killed one schoolgirl and wounded 25 others, opposition activist Maher Abdelhaq said, adding that pupils there had taken part in anti-Assad protests.

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