United Nations observers in Syria have raised new allegations of execution-style killings with the discovery of 13 bound corpses as the United States hinted that continued slaughter in the violence-torn country could prompt outside military intervention.
The latest atrocity took place in northeastern Deir el-Zour province, where the bodies were found late Tuesday blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. A statement by the U.N. mission said some of the dead appeared to have been shot in the head from close range.
U.N. observer chief Robert Mood said he is "deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act."
Speaking after news of the executions had broken, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations described the most likely scenario if international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan completely collapses and total civil war ensues. Susan Rice said a coalition of nations may be forced to take action "outside of the Annan plan and the authority of [the Security] Council," a clear hint of military intervention.
Thus far, Washington and its allies have rejected the use of force and said they would not arm anti-government fighters.
International Community Outraged
International outrage about developments in Syria has mounted since more than 100 civilians - nearly half of them children - were massacred in the Syrian town of Houla last week, prompting the U.S. and other western nations to expel Syrian diplomats in protest.
Japan and Turkey Wednesday joined nine nations that announced the expulsions of Syrian envoys the day before: the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
Russia's U.N. ambassador to Syria on Wednesday called the moves a "bilateral matter," but warned they could be "misinterpreted by those who want to see foreign military intervention and fighting in Syria."
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes regime change by force in Syria. He also said he is not aware of any Chinese move to expel or disrupt the work of Syrian diplomats in the country.
Diplomats in Geneva said the U.N. Human Rights Council plans to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the Houla massacre. They said the United States, Turkey and Qatar led the push for the special session.
Also Wednesday, Germany's ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wittig, urged the Council to consider a resolution that would punish "spoilers" of the Annan plan in what would be the first global sanctions applied in Syria.
The British and French envoys also spoke of the need to intensify pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
In Washington, the U.S. Treasury announced Wednesday it will freeze the assets of the Syrian International Islamic Bank to tighten economic pressure on the Syrian government.
But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow, which holds a veto on the Security Council, opposes the idea of ratcheting up pressure on Damascus in the form of U.N. sanctions. He said he agreed the Syrian crisis is deteriorating but blamed all antagonists, saying "we are not one-sided."
Mr. Annan left Syria Wednesday for talks with Jordanian officials. A U.N. official said the international envoy did not secure any major steps from the Syrian government to implement his faltering peace plan.
'Annan Plan a Real Failure'
Annan's blueprint calls on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and abide by a truce with rebels. But attacks by both sides have continued.
Syrian activists said fighting between government and rebel forces on Wednesday killed at least nine people, five of them in the Damascus suburb of Douma. They said government troops shelled Douma and the central city of Homs, which also is an opposition stronghold. The casualties could not be independently confirmed.
Abu Orouba, a media liaison for the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria, told VOA the situation across the country is dire.
"Annan’s plan is a real failure. As a Syrian citizen, I see that it failed to produce any result - actually none of its articles were implemented. Even the cease-fire requirement was not met," Orouba said. "If Annan’s plan is still on the table and the U.N. observers are still on the ground, why did this massacre ((Houla)) take place? Why is there no cease-fire?"
Political scientist Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Center in Moscow says the situation in Syria is so dead-locked that a solely diplomatic solution is becoming impossible.
“[President Assad] is a nervous man, and, it seems, is so confident in himself that he has gone over the top in his actions,” Malashenko said. “The massacre in Houla is only the beginning; it will continue to get worse.”
VOA 's Yuliya Appel and Mohammed Elshinnawi contributed to this report.