The Syrian government and opposition activists traded accusations Monday for the killings of dozens of civilians in the embattled city of Homs. Syrian government troops, meanwhile, continued their offensive in northern Idlib province.
Activists say the bodies of at least 45 women and children have been discovered in the central city that has been a flashpoint for an anti-government uprising and retaliatory attacks and shelling by Syrian forces.
Showing gruesome videos of bodies in three locations, the opposition accuses pro-government militiamen known as “shabiha” for the killings.
Syrian officials confirm the deaths, but the state news agency SANA blamed "terrorist armed groups" for kidnapping, killing and mutilating civilians in order to show their bodies to media outlets.
Syrian state TV interviewed a handful of people who gave conflicting accounts of what happened.
Watch related video of Homs violence
The discovery of the corpses in Homs comes days after United Nations humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos visited the devastated Baba Amr neighborhood, and after U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's weekend meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution blames the deaths in Homs on the Syrian government.
"What's so surprising? It was known that [Bashar] wanted to break Homs, he wanted to break Baba Amr, he wanted to make an example of them," said Ajami.
Ajami said Annan's mission to negotiate with the Syrian government is “diplomatic theater” and gives Assad's forces “more time to crush the rebellion.”
“Any time a regime with big guns and big weapons and completely unmoored from international morality faces a civilian population, the regime will win, barring foreign intervention. So, the question is: Will there be a massacre large enough and decisive enough and brutal enough that awakens the powers of the world?” asks Ajami.
In northern Syria, witnesses described a multi-pronged government offensive against opposition strongholds in various parts of Idlib province near the border with Turkey.
The continued attacks come as the U.N. Security Council, meeting in New York, debated the Syrian government's crackdown.