As Annan flies out, Assad's men go in to kill the innocent

Massacre of women and children reported in Homs as UN envoy leaves empty-handed

There were renewed fears that Syria was slipping towards all-out civil war last night after opposition activists claimed that scores of men, women and children had been butchered by regime militias roaming through a rebel neighbourhood in Homs – just 24 hours after the former United Nations chief Kofi Annan jetted out of Damascus saying he had drawn up a plan for ending the crisis.

Reports emerging from the shell-blitzed city suggested entire families had been shot or had their throats slit, with numerous videos being uploaded to YouTube showing blood-soaked corpses in homes and backyards.

"Sunni people in Homs are talking about declaring holy war," an activist calling himself Abo Emad said. He added that alleged massacres by Shia Alawi paramilitaries loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were radicalising communities in Homs, an area that has been plagued by sectarian kidnappings and murders in recent months. Many analysts fear the violence in the city could lead to wider civil strife.

State media confirmed that mass killings had taken place, but blamed the deaths on "terrorists" fighting against the government. But the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, a network of activists which works to publicise the uprising, said 45 people had been murdered by loyalist militias in Karm Zeitoun, a mixed Alawi-Shia neighbourhood, which was controlled by rebel troops until last month.

A number of videos have since appeared on the internet purporting to show victims of the massacre. One showed the blood-stained bodies of at least a dozen middle-aged men.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said more than 100 bodies had been delivered to hospitals in Homs over the past three days. It was still unclear who was responsible for the killings, he said. According to Abo Emad, mothers and young girls were raped by gangs of paramilitaries as they went house-to-house in the neighbourhood. "If the regime is saying it was the opposition doing this, then they can go to hell," he said. "How could we kill our own children?"

The latest outbreak of violence comes after a week of intensive diplomatic efforts, which appear to have come to nothing. Despite holding two rounds of talks with the Syrian President, Mr Annan failed to secure ceasefire talks between the government and rebel groups. And the violence shows no sign of slowing: as well as the apparent massacre in Homs, a car bomb exploded in the city of Deraa, killing three people.

Talks moved on to the UN Security Council yesterday, where again there were harsh words for the Assad regime. The "horrific campaign of violence" had "shocked the conscience of the world", Hillary Clinton, the United States' Secretary of State, said. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, again attacked Damascus, which has "failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect its own people". Their comments came after Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian chief who visited Homs last week, said she was, "horrified by the destruction," she saw.

Any formal censure from the UN is unlikely given veto-holding Russia and China, who insist that all sides commit to a peaceful solution.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral