Activists and medical workers said the videos offered evidence of what they called a massacre in Homs by pro-government militias, which embarked on a murderous rampage Sunday evening in the Sunni neighborhood of Karm el-Zeitoun.
Groups of people known as shabiha, or armed thugs, raided the area from an adjoining neighborhood populated by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect and began randomly shooting, stabbing and burning civilians, the activists said.
The Syrian government countered with allegations that “terrorist armed groups” had killed the victims and then filmed their bodies, aiming to influence a debate on Syria at the U.N. Security Council on Monday and to shore up opposition calls for “foreign interference in Syria.”
With foreign journalists barred from independent reporting in Syria, the claims were impossible to verify. But the footage — showing mangled, bloodied corpses of women and children piled in the living room of a home that serves as a field hospital — signaled a new low in the violence engulfing the country as the government steps up its efforts to crush a nearly year-long revolt against Assad’s rule and as the opposition increasingly fights back.
The indications that the killings may have had a sectarian motive also underscored the danger that the conflict is rapidly sliding toward a vicious and most likely sectarian civil war that risks spreading beyond Syria’s borders.
The killings came only hours after the United Nations’ new Syria envoy, Kofi Annan, concluded a fruitless mission aimed at persuading the government in Damascus to accept a cease-fire and begin negotiations with the opposition.
Pressure on Russia, China
At the United Nations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her European and Arab colleagues tried to press Russia and China, which vetoed a recent resolution calling on Assad to relinquish some powers, to support a tougher line against the regime.
Clinton sounded upbeat Monday about the prospects of Russian support for a U.S.-crafted draft resolution condemning Syria and backing Annan’s mediation efforts.
“I had a constructive conversation with Russian Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov,” she told reporters. “I think he has heard clearly how strong the feelings are in the region and on the Security Council, and that we expect all nations, including Russia and China, to join us now in pressing the Assad regime to silence its guns.”