13 killed in Syria - UN monitors

Observers in Syria say they have discovered at least 13 bodies in eastern Syria.

The head of a UN mission warned of "civil war" in Syria after his observers counted more than 92 bodies, 32 of them children on 26 May, 2012. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - U.N. 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.

Syrian activists said the victims were army defectors killed by Assad's forces, but it was not possible to verify their accounts.

Outrage at last Friday's mass killings in the Syrian town of Houla, documented by U.N. 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 U.N. Security Council.

Wednesday's observer report underlined how a peace plan drafted by international envoy Kofi Annan has failed to stem bloodshed or bring Syria's government and opposition to the negotiating table.

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."

The U.N. observers said the 13 dead men had been found on Tuesday evening in Assukar, about 50 km (31 miles) east of the city of Deir al-Zor.

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.

U.N. 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, U.N.-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.

RIGHTS COUNCIL

Diplomats said the U.N. 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.

"It's all materialising very quickly. It's going to have huge support," said one official. The United States, Qatar, Turkey and the European Union led the push for the session.

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.

However, the U.N. observers sent in to monitor a notional ceasefire were able to verify the horrors in Houla, producing a wave of world revulsion hard for Moscow and Beijing to ignore.

But China and Russia have stuck to their rejection of any intervention or U.N.-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.