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04:32, 24 June 2018 Sunday
Update: 11:47, 26 May 2012 Saturday

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Over 90 killed in Syria massacre, activists say
Over 90 killed in Syria massacre, activists say

The death toll has risen to at least 90 from Syrian shelling on the town of Houla, an opposition group said on Saturday.

 World Bulletin/News Desk

The death toll has risen to at least 90 from Syrian shelling on the town of Houla on Friday, an opposition group said on Saturday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents continued to flee the town, in central Homs province, in fear that artillery fire would resume.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the accounts from Syria, which has restricted access for journalists during a 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition activists said on Friday that Syrian forces opened fire with artillery after skirmishing with insurgents in Houla, a cluster of villages north of the city of Homs.

Various opposition activists put the death toll at over 50 by late on Friday. Footage posted to web sites showed bloodied and mangled corpses described as the victims of the shelling.

Meanwhile, Anatolian Agency reported that The Syrian Revolution General Commission said that death toll rose to 115 in ongoing crackdown in the country.      

The commission said 115 people, most of whom were women and children, were killed in operations in Homs and Hama on Friday.      

According to opposition sources, 15,000 people had been killed by the Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria since opposition protests began 434 days ago.      

UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan presented a peace plan last month. The six-point peace plan includes demands for a ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of heavy armor from residential areas and access for humanitarian aid.           

The plan was presented to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 10 and accepted by him on March 27.      

The ceasefire came into effect on April 12, but although the overall level of violence has dropped since then, al-Assad's government has been accused of failing to abide by key terms of the truce plan, including pulling all forces from urban areas and allowing peaceful demonstrations.

Lebanese Syria hostage release delayed

Lebanon said on Friday that a group of Lebanese Shi'ites kidnapped in Syria had been freed and were safe in Turkey, but produced no sign of the hostages at the centre of a kidnap drama heightening tensions over the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

The twist in a hostage drama that has inflamed political tensions in a country divided between foes and friends of the uprising in Syria came as Syrian activists said government troops killed at least 90 people in the centre of the country.

The account of the killings underscored the relentlessness of the violence in Syria's 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, which has thrown Lebanon's delicate sect-based politics into the country's worst unrest in years.

Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told reporters at Beirut airport the hostages were in Turkey, had been delayed for "logistical reasons" and would reach Lebanon in hours. He said they were in good health, and speculated they were being questioned by Turkish officials.

He was explaining to a restive crowd why the captives had failed to appear hours after Prime Minister Najib Mikati's office said that Turkey had confirmed release of the hostages, who were snatched by gunmen in northern Syria as they returned from a religious pilgrimage this week.

A member of the fragmented body that claims to speak for Syria's political opposition raised new doubts over their fate, saying their captors still held them.

"We are still working on the handover. They are still with the armed group," Ahmad Ramadan of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) told Reuters, speaking from Istanbul.

Hezbollah renews call for calm

The kidnappings followed the worst unrest in years in the Lebanese capital, where rival Sunni factions loyal and opposed to Syria fought street battles after the killing of a Sunni Muslim cleric opposed to Assad in northern Lebanon.

Residents of Beirut's southern suburbs rushed into the streets to celebrate news the captives would be freed, with women ululating and tossing rice in the air.

Those same areas saw enraged Shi'ites burn tyres and block the road to Beirut's airport as word of the kidnappings spread.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who had appealed for calm after the kidnappings, said on Friday they would not sway its support for Syria.

Near midnight in Beirut, Hezbollah and another pro-Syrian Shi'ite Muslim faction issued a statement calling on those who gathered at the airport to meet the captives to go home until further notice and keep calm.

Syrian security forces earlier killed at least four anti-government protesters on Friday when they opened fire on demonstrations in the northern city of Aleppo and the outskirts of the capital Damascus, activists said.

The fringes of the capital also saw skirmishes between rebels of the Free Syria Army and government forces who fired on demonstrations in the Zamalka district, activists said.

There was no independent confirmation of any of those accounts from within Syria, which has limited access for journalists during the uprising.

The United Nations said on Friday that recent bomb attacks in Syria may have been the work of "established terrorist groups."

"The sophistication and size of the bombs point to a high level of expertise, which may indicate the involvement of established terrorist groups," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in a letter on Friday.

A day earlier, the global body said both Syrian government forces and the insurgency that has sprung up alongside what began as a mass protest movement had committed serious human rights abuses.

In a report documenting 207 killings since March, U.N. investigators said government forces had executed entire families in their homes and rebels tortured and killed captive soldiers and government supporters.

The global body said it can no longer track casualties in the uprising. The envoy overseeing the U.N. peace plan, Kofi Annan, is due in Syria shortly, Annan's spokesman said. It would be his first visit since presenting the plan, which includes teams monitoring the ceasefire, which has yet to take hold.

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