President Bashar Assad's forces killed at least 50 civilians, including 13 children, on Friday in central Syria, activists said. It was one of the highest death tolls in one specific area since an internationally-brokered cease-fire went into effect last month.
Syrian troops using tanks, mortars and heavy machine guns pounded Houla, a region made up of several towns and villages in the province of Homs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups said.
Both groups said at least 50 people were killed. The Observatory, which has a network of activists around the country, said the dead included 13 children. It added that about 100 people were wounded.
An amateur video posted online by activists showed more than a dozen bodies lined up inside a room. They included about 10 children who were covered with sheets that only showed their bloodied faces.
"Houla was subjected to a massacre," a man could be heard saying inside the room.
The Observatory said in one incident in Houla, a family of six was killed when their home received a direct hit.
Homs has been among the hardest hit provinces in a government crackdown since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year. The U.N. said several weeks ago that 9,000 people have been killed in Syria in the past 15 months. Hundreds more have died since.
Attacks like Friday's, as well as strikes by rebel forces on government troops, have persisted despite the deployment of more than 250 U.N. observers across Syria to monitor a cease-fire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
In a report Friday to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the Syrian government for much of the "unacceptable levels of violence and abuses" occurring every day in violation of the cease-fire.
He cited the government's continuing use of heavy weapons, reports of shelling and "a stepped-up security crackdown by the authorities that has led to massive violations of human rights by government forces and pro-government militias."
He called on the government to keep its pledge to immediately stop the violence, pull heavy weapons and troops out of populated areas, allow humanitarian workers to help needy civilians and end human rights abuses. He also called on all elements of the opposition to stop the violence and respect human rights.
Meanwhile, in the northern city of Aleppo, which has remained largely supportive of Assad throughout the uprising, Syrian forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters calling for Assad's ouster, killing five people, activists said.
Also Friday, a group of Lebanese Shiites who were kidnapped in Syria were released in good health, three days after gunmen abducted the men as they returned from a religious pilgrimage.
The kidnappings fueled fears that Lebanon was being drawn into the bloody conflict in neighboring Syria. In the hours after Tuesday's abductions, protests erupted in Beirut's Shiite-dominated southern suburbs, where residents burned tires and blocked roads.