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Annan in Syria to try to salvage U.N. peace plan in wake of massacre

The United Nations' special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, arrived in the Syrian capital Monday in an attempt to shore up an already shaky U.N. peace plan following the massacre of at least 100 civilians in a central Syrian village.

Annan arrived amid fresh reports of violence in the city of Hama and deepening international concern about the killings Friday in the village of Houla, near Homs, in which at least 49 children died, according to the United Nations.

Annan said he was "personally shocked and horrified" by the deaths in Houla, which the U.N. Security Council blamed on the Syrian government in a sharply worded statement Sunday.

"This was an appalling crime, and the Security Council has rightly condemned it," Annan said in a statement issued on his arrival in Damascus. He said he expected to hold "serious and frank" discussions with President Bashar Assad and called on him to "comprehensively" implement the six-point peace plan mandated by the United Nations in April. "This is not happening," he said in a blunt acknowledgment that the plan has not stemmed the bloodshed.

The massacre was one of the worst single incidents of the 14-month-old uprising against Assad's rule, in which more than 10,000 people are believed to have died, and has heightened concerns that Syria is sliding into an unstoppable conflict that could spread beyond its borders.

Activists reported Monday that at least 34 people died in shelling by government forces overnight Sunday in Hama.

At least some of the 108 people who the U.N. observer mission in Syria says were killed in Houla had been shot dead and some of the bodies bore signs of physical abuse, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Diplomats at the United Nations said they had been told as many as 116 were dead.

According to Houla residents, many of the killings were carried out by pro-government militias belonging to Assad's minority Alawite sect, who went house to house in the Sunni village killing entire families overnight Friday.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility and accused the opposition of carrying out the killings.

In Washington, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Monday that such "atrocities" could trigger international military intervention.

He stressed, however, that he would like to see the international community exert greater diplomatic pressure on Assad before exploring military options.

"You'll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we're never entirely sure what comes out on the other side," he said, speaking on Fox News. "But, that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities."